Project Canterbury

The Life and Work of William Augustus Muhlenberg
Doctor in Divinity

By Anne Ayres

New York: T. Whittaker, 1889.

CHAPTER XXIV. 1869-1872.

Incorporation of St. Johnland.--Diversified Objects of the Society.--Capabilities of the Place--Not ready for Cottages at first.--Family Life fostered in another Form.--St. Johnland Children.--Evangelical Brotherhood.--Church Services.--"Directory for the Use of the Book of Common Prayer."--Illustration from Supplement.--Dedication of the Church.--St. John's Inn has its House-warming.--A Cottage Tenantry.--Who and What they are to be.--Mistakes Corrected.--Educational as to Family Life.--The Great St. Johnland Text.--An Original Charity.--Transfer of Property to Trustees.--Mr. John D. Wolfe's Benefactions.--Anecdotes.--Influence of Dr. Muhlenberg in enlarged Gifts of Benevolence.

ST. JOHNLAND did not become an Incorporation in law, until the year 1870. Among its Trustees were a number of the contributors to the original purchase of the farm, but some had before this passed hence. [Its first officers were, John David Wolfe, President; Adam Norrie. Vice President; Howard Potter, Treasurer; and Wm. Alex. Smith, Secretary.]

An abstract of the Act of Incorporation states the objects of the organization as follows:

"First: To provide cheap and comfortable homes, together with the means of social and moral improvement, for deserving families from among the working classes, particularly of the city of New York, and such as can carry on their work at St. Johnland; but this provision shall never be used for pecuniary emolument, either to the Society or to any of the Agents in its employ. Second: To maintain a home for aged men in destitute circumstances, especially Communicants, who are deemed entitled to it by the churches to which they belong; to care for friendless children and youth, and especially cripples, by giving them home, schooling, Christian training, and some trade or occupation by which they can earn their future livelihood; and generally to do such other Christian offices as shall from time to time be required, and are practicable by the Society, consistently with its benevolent designs. Third: To assist indigent boys and young men who desire literary education, with a view to the Gospel Ministry, by affording them the opportunity for such education, and, at the same time, means of self-support by some useful employment An Evangelical School, or College, chiefly for training for the Ministry, would come within the scope of the Society. Lastly, and as embracing its whole, to give form and practical application to the principles of Brotherhood in Christ, in an organized congregation or parish, constituted by settled residents of St. Johnland," The territory, in its diversified range of hill and dale, of wood and water, in the tilth of its broad acres, in its fine garden land, and its general eligibility for a variety of industries, is a place of unlimited capabilities. The measure of its possible usefulness can not be estimated, granting reasonable supplies of material aid for its development. Dr. Muhlenberg's wise and prophetic mind apprehended all this, and his faith in the principles of Evangelical Brotherhood, upon, which the whole is founded, gave him a confident hope as to the future of the work, even though his eye should see little more than the first feeble steps of its infancy.

Enthusiastic, eager of heart, in all that he undertook, there was, at the same time, a grand underlaying power of patient waiting, which kept out of the inception of all his enterprises every least approach to the rushing methods of this nineteenth century. "Festina lente" was a favorite maxim, and well carried out in his different foundations. Not that with regard to any one of these he, of choice, waited so long for the development of his ideal in the actual, but he was wise and prudent as to opportunities, and, moreover, ruled himself always by the indication of God's will in the position of affairs and the circumstances of the time.

It would have been a great joy to him to see while yet he lived, a colony of some fifty happy cottage homes, thriving under the benefits provided for them, in the peaceful, wholesome, moral and religious influences of his St. Johnland. And a first thought in buying the farm was to press for the erection of these cottages. Three were put up and occupied, but it soon became apparent that progress of another kind must precede a thorough readiness for carrying out this fundamental idea. He had thought of homes for the aged, for crippled children, for destitute boys and girls, etc., as humane accessories to the leading object of the enterprise, which inherently they are, but in God's Providence they were to come about first, as to the order of time.

It is easily seen now that it could not have been otherwise. When the place was bought, there were neither houses, church, school buildings, railroad proximity, a convenient provision mart, nor post office--agencies indispensable to a Christian industrial settlement, deriving its employment mainly from the city. But this notwithstanding, the place was quickly turned to good account.

In the readiness of generous friends to erect suitable houses for the purpose, and in the natural advantages of the place, there has been, almost from the beginning, much opportunity for benefiting the young of the families contemplated in Dr. Muhlenberg's idea. The large households of children successively cared for at St. Johnland, not including the youthful convalescents from St. Luke's, have been for the most part neither stray waifs, nor little street Arabs, nor juvenile reprobates needing the good offices of a reformatory, but the orphans or half orphans of decent poor parents, valuing nothing so much as the moral and physical well-being of their little ones.

This Church Village was created to elevate family life among the poor, and much care is taken to this end. The children are not huddled together in one vast building, like so many pieces of a great machine, knowing nothing, each one, beyond its own groove or niche. They are divided, according to circumstances, into households numbering from thirty to forty each.

Their houses are not alike, and the children are not dressed alike, nor in any other manner ground into an artificial uniformity by unnecessary routine or cold repression. They have room for spontaneity.

"Your children all look as though they had mothers,1' said an intelligent visitor to the place. The work is one of manifold benevolence, yet it is no mere combination of institutions, but already, in its measure, a living exemplification of that Gospel Brotherhood which its Founder has so yearned to see permeating the church. "Brotherhood in Christ" was the foundation and corner-stone of the ideal, and Brotherhood in Christ is, it may be affirmed, the keynote of the daily life of the actual St. Johnland.

All the residents, whatever their previous religious associations, unite cordially in the worship of the Church of the Testimony; and thus not a few, older and younger, have been led naturally into "the green pastures and still waters" of the old historic church, hitherto unknown to them, and have found ii all so sweet and wholesome, as not to be content ever again to do without the beautiful ritual, its responsive Liturgy, its animating Te Deums and Glorias, and the comprehensive teachings of the Church Year. It has always been thus wherever Dr. Muhlenberg's ministry was exercised. The reserved rights and privileges of this Church of the Testimony, are "the liberty of conscience," "the liberty of prayer," and the liberty of "ministerial fellowship." When he prepared his "Directory for the Use of the Book of Common Prayer," he was too far on in years to do what he otherwise might have done for its acceptableness, by a personal illustration of its value. It is one of his works yet to be appreciated. Leaving the Prayer Book reverently untouched by so much as a "jot or tittle," that they who find all that they want in its venerable forms may not be hurt by the, to them, sacrilegiousness of any change, he shows, in this Directory, how, by some such authorized Supplement to the Book, a widely felt need of more flexibility of the service might be allowed, without the least confusion or disarrangement of the stately order of the worship. This is secured by appointing the places in the service, at which the liberty of free prayer, or the choice of an alternative in a prescribed form, may be used.

"The Prayer Book," he writes, "is not undervalued as to its treasures in asserting its wants. The latter can not be denied. Witness the meagre amount of New Testament prayer and praise for the round of festivals and fasts; the absence of any forms suited to the peculiar circumstances of our own church and country, and to the times we live in; or for our benevolent and educational institutions. There are no prayers for the increase of ministers, for missions or missionaries; for the Christian teaching of the young; for sponsors on the occasion of baptism; for persons setting out on long journeys by land, quite as perilous as voyages by sea; for the sick desiring the prayers of the church, when there is no prospect of or desire for recovery; for the bereaved at funerals; and many other occasions for which there might as well be provision, as for those few for which we already have in the 'occasional prayers'--not to speak of the endless subjects for which there can be no liturgical prescriptions, and which necessitate the exercise of free prayer. Perhaps it is only in such prayer that due supplication can be made for that which we are most enjoined to pray for, but which has so little place, beside a passing versicle, in the ordinary offices of the church--the influence and manifold gifts of the Holy Spirit.

"With respect to the following forms, let it be remembered that they are meant for comparatively private use, and not proposed as worthy additions to the Liturgy. Imperfect as they are, they may yet serve as exemplifications of what a Supplement to the Prayer Book might become, if to furnish it with materials were made an object by the church, or of some of her members acting together for the purpose. In that event, the effect would be similar to what has happened in regard to our Hymnody. Contributions would be forthcoming, when once combined piety and genius were encouraged to make such offerings for the sanctuary; while, from sources new and old, treasures would be gathered worthy of being incorporated with the Liturgy; gems would be found, fit for setting in its 'wrought gold.'" The subjoined, provided to be added to the usual church service on the Festival of the Nativity, will serve to illustrate what has been quoted above, and may incidentally show how near he came in chaste and reverent utterance to the ancient formulas:


"All glory be to thee, O God, for that them didst so love the world as to give thine only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, bat have everlasting life. All praise and thanks be unto thee for this thine unspeakable gift. All blessing and honor, that unto us is born, as on this day, a Saviour which is Christ the Lord. Glory to thee in the highest. To thee we lift up anew our praises, with all the assemblies of thy saints, now rejoicing again in this manifestation of thy love. As, when thou didst bring thy first-begotten into the world, thou gavest thine angels to worship him, give unto as, to whom he has joined himself nearer than to the angels, to worship him with all the homage of our souls, and, together with all things in heaven and things on earth, to confess that he is Lord, to the glory of thee, the Father."

"All glory be unto thee, thou eternal Son, for the marvellous mystery of thine Incarnation, wherein thou didst lay aside thy majesty on high, and clothe thyself with humanity, for us men and our salvation. The brightness of the Father's glory and the express image of his person, we adore thee that thou didst stoop to sojourn in our world, and acquaint thyself with its woes, that thou might raise us to thy heavenly kingdom. Fulfil in us, we beseech thee, all the purposes of thine ineffable humiliation. Emmanuel, God with us, draw us unto thee in the new life which is begotten of thyself. Thou who wast born of a woman, deign, by thy indwelling in us, to be born in our hearts, and to reign there until every thought be brought into captivity to thy will. Purify us, that, following thee in thy humility and thy charity, we may bear thine image, and be ready for thy second coming, in the glory of the Father, with all the holy angels.

"O Saviour of sinners, give us to know the fulness of thy salvation, in deliverance from the power of sin now in this time of our present life, that we may be delivered from the dread of its consequences in the life to come.

"O Divine Brother of our race, shed abroad thy love, that those whom thou hast redeemed may become an holy brotherhood, knit together in thee, gathering unto thee all the kindreds of the earth.

"O Prince of peace, govern in our hearts, dispelling all angry passions and ill-will, and all that is discordant with the harmony of thy rule. Sway the nations of the earth. Put an end to their enmities and strifes. Hasten the time when they shall prepare for war no more, and rest secure in thine empire of peace, to the glory of thee, and of the Father, and of the Holy Ghost, world without end. Amen."


"O sing unto the Lord a new song; let the congregation of saints praise him.
Let Israel rejoice in him that made him; and let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.
In him the First and the Last, the same yesterday, to-day, and forever.
The Angel of the Covenant, the Ancient of days.
The Desire of all Nations, the Glory of his people Israel.
The Root and Offspring of David, The Bright and Morning Star.
The Son of Mary: The Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
The Day Spring from on High: The Sun of Righteousness risen with healing in his wings.
The Rose of Sharon, and the Lily of the Valley.
The Crown of Glory, The Diadem of Beauty unto His people.
The Author and Finisher of our Faith, the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls.
The Lamb slain, from the foundation of the world: High Priest forever, after the order of Melchizedec.
The Propitiation for the Sins of the world: the Only Name under Heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.
The Prophet, Priest, and King: The Lord our Righteousness.
The Judge of the Quick and the Dead: he that hath the keys of Death and Hell.
God manifest in the Flesh: Image of the Invisible God.
The Brightness of the Father's Glory: The express Image of his Person.
King of Kings, and Lord of Lords: God over all blessed for evermore."

This last, as a Cantate for Christmas, has been known and used in St. Luke's Hospital for some years. "What is that you are singing?" was asked of the sick children there one day, as they chanted it heartily in their ward. "All the beautiful names of our Lord Jesus Christ," was the reply of the little ones. "Yes," returned the Rev. Dr. -----, "engraft those words on their minds, and they will never fall into false doctrine."

The Church of the Testimony was dedicated on the 8th of October, 1870. It was a 'white day' for Dr. Muhlenberg and for St. Johnland. The weather was enjoyable, and all present evinced warm sympathy and appreciation. The guests of the occasion, clerical and lay, numerous for the accommodations of the place, came down from town the day before, in readiness for the event, and St. John's Inn, being then just completed and newly fitted up for its expected aged beneficiaries, received its house-warming in lodging many of the visitors. More than one distinguished city clergyman slept that night in an old man's alcove. This was the opening service of the Church. The following Sunday the unwonted sound of its bell broke the sabbath stillness of the neighborhood for the first regular morning and afternoon worship, and from that day forth the pretty rural sanctuary has always had, in goodly number, its bands of reverent worshippers, whose hearty responses and full congregational singing as initiated by the Founder have been well kept up and might do credit to many a larger parish.

Thus St. Johnland, at every step, if somewhat slow of movement, has made sure and substantial progress. The original hindrances to the establishment of a cottage tenantry doing work from the city, have been one by one removed. The railroad with its St. Johnland Station and Post Office within a mile and a half of the village, followed quickly upon the opening of the Church until at length nothing is wanting for the development of the place after the pattern so beautifully laid down by Dr. Muhlenberg but contributions in sufficient amount for the purpose.

An advance towards the realization of the principal feature of the plan is started. The cottages now in erection are the gifts of individual friends of the work. Each one has five or six rooms and a garden of its own. No profit is to be made by any one out of the rent, which is therefore far less than would be paid for half the space in a crowded city tenement; but the collective rents are expected ultimately to pay the expenses of the business agent, and cost of transportation of work, and to keep the houses in repair.

With the living work thus at last unfolding itself, and its projector no longer here, the following additional exposition of what it is and what it is not, from his own pen, is of value:

"The primary objects of the foundation," he says, "are, in the first place, to afford to certain classes of the deserving and industrious poor, a comfortable home in the country, in place of the wretched abodes to which they are doomed in the city. By certain classes of such poor, is meant those who get their living in branches of industry which they carry on at their own apartments--for example, tailors, capmakers, clear-starchers, shoemakers, umbrella-stitchers, seamstresses, and the many other operatives who are employed in large establishments, where they get the material of their work and return it when it is done. This they could do out of town as well as in it, an agency being established for carriage between them and their employers."

He refutes, with characteristic nalvet6, various errors with regard to the scope and aim of his design into which certain persons have fallen, and so doing contributes to the fuller elucidation of the enterprise.

Thus: "'I have come to inform you,' said------, 'of a most worthy family, just the kind for your St. Johnland--an old man and his wife, too infirm to do any thing for themselves, dependent upon an only daughter who is in poor health herself. They are living in a wretched hole, and I was thinking what a mercy it would be if they could exchange it for one of your places in the country.

"'Certainly, it would; but how would they support themselves?'

"'They could not do much at that; the daughter makes something at sewing.'

"'Which would not be enough to pay the rent.'

"'Rent! Why, must your people pay rent? I thought they would have their dwelling free and then do what they could to eke out a living.

"'That would be to make country-seats for the poor, which for some of them indeed would be a very good thing; but it is not the object of St. Johnland, nor is the place designed for the poor generally.'

"'For whom, then?'

"'For working people who can maintain themselves by their industry in an honest independence.'

"'How can people, who have been earning their living in the city, do so in the country?'

"'Not all, of course; but those who work at trades under their own roofs, such as tailors, shoemakers, shirtmakers and many others.'

"'Your plan, then, is not so comprehensive as I imagined.'

"'It is still more limited. It is for well-disposed working people, who value Christian privileges; and especially those who have children to bring up, to do which as they desire, is a thing impossible in their present circumstances.'

"'This, I fear, is rather a limited class of the poor.'

"'Not by any means as limited as you fancy. Amid those masses, as we call them, who, for the most part seem well content with their condition, there are scattered families 'of our Protestant faith, and adorning it too, who are far from being content, chiefly on account of their children, exposed as they are to demoralizing influences, and often to the vilest associations. I could show you decent and pious families of whom you would say it is a shame they should be left immured in those heaps of physical and moral corruption. Such as these, you must allow, have a pre-eminent claim on our consideration. They are our fellow Christians. Our charity of course should be withheld from none to whom we can extend it, but "charity begins at home." And surely our kinsmen in Christ are at home . .'"

Again, he says: "To some minds the scheme has this defect. The tenants of the cottages can never own them; whatever be their industry, they can never become independent proprietors of their own houses. They would thus lack one powerful motive to exertion and good conduct. Why not supply them with this motive? Because it would not consist with the permanent welfare of the place. The first proprietors might continue all right, but there would be no security for such continuance in their heirs. In a generation or two the community might be infested with the ordinary nuisances of country towns. No. When any of the tenants shall have saved enough to purchase property, let them do it somewhere else, and leave their St Johnland homes for others in their turn to do likewise.

"This brings into view a very important feature of the whole project; its being educational, not of the young alone, but of families, and in their capacity as families, with husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and sisters under teachings and influences training them in their respective and relative duties. St. Johnland may be viewed as a college for education in the domestic virtues, for the elevation of the family-ship of its members. To preserve as much as possible its primitive social and moral character, it should never become a large town. Limits should be set to it by law. . . ."

'"After all, will not the good done be very small?' Yes, in comparison with the amount of the same kind of good which would still be left undone, but not small in itself. Suppose the settlement to become in the course of a few years, a well-ordered rural parish, with an industrious population of some four or five hundred (he contemplated about one hundred homes) taken from the tenement dens of the city; it would be no very small thing, nor cost more than it would be worth--yet that would be only a beginning. As sure as the present enterprise succeeds it will be followed by others, and many a St. Johnland will spring Tip as little 'cities of refuge' from the moral devastations of the great city, for the saving of thousands to the Church and State in generations to come. Nay, looking further, we are sanguine enough to see it no uncommon thing for benevolent gentlemen to have these industrial communities on their own country estates. Why not? Why should it be a strange thing for large-hearted men, with ample means, to be such Christian lords of the manor going in and out among them as fathers and brothers? This is to be one of the forms of Evangelical Brotherhood in the Johannean Church to come."

One more explanation must not be omitted, as it concerns the "great St. Johnland text" which makes the motto of the seal of the Corporation. It is also the legend of the chancel window of the Church, and the continually iterated, fundamental law of the settlement

'"THIS IS HIS COMMANDMENT THAT WE SHOULD BELIEVE ON THE NAME OF HIS SON JESUS CHRIST, AND LOVE ONE ANOTHER, AS HE GAVE US COMMANDMENT.' He, in the second instance referring to Jesus Christ, we have here"--explained Dr. Muhlenberg--"the whole Gospel Law: the Father commanding us to believe in the Son, and the Son, commanding us to love one another. Would that this might be our sovereign and living law, and so make the place really a St. Johnland, not St. John's land as some would have it. We have not dedicated it to St. John, but use his name attributively. Johannean, as expressing his characteristic spirit, in the hope that that spirit of brotherly love flowing from faith in Christ will make ours a St. Johannean Land, or, as we abridge it, St. Johnland. Happy shall we be if so blessed of the Lord. . . . ."

Some intelligent and travelled persons, in speaking of St. Johnland, and with the hereditary affinities of its Founder in their minds, have hastily pronounced it, "one of those rural institutions dotting everywhere the suburban districts of Germany." This is altogether erroneous. What resemblance they find is simply in the superficial aspect of the place, its simplicity, unworldliness, and evident Christian rule. Those German Protestant foundations are primarily eleemosynary, reformatory, or protectionary institutions; conducted indeed by devoted, large-hearted men and women of like spirit with the Founder of St. Johnland, but having, with the same aim for the glory of God, a very different object and field of labor.

Dr. Wichern of the Rauhe Haus of Hamburg was perhaps the nearest to Dr. Muhlenberg of all these devoted workers. Through mutxial friends, these two brother philanthropists knew something of each other, and at one time there was a prospect that Dr. Wichern would be the guest of Dr. Muhlenberg at St. Luke's, during a visit which he proposed making to this country, but did not accomplish. His colony of cottages for the neglected little outcasts of the streets of Hamburg is a most self-denying and admirable undertaking, but not at all analogous to Dr. Muhlenberg's conception of elevating family life, in certain classes of our city poor, by means of the cottage homes of his rural and Industrial Church Village.

In the second year of the Incorporation of the Society, its first President, Mr. John David Wolfe, was taken hence. His death on the 17th of May, 1872, was both a loss and a grief to Dr. Muhlenberg. Mr. Wolfe's goodness and benevolence had, during his last years, been warmly thrown into Dr. Muhlenberg's Christian labors, and of some, as for instance St. John-land, he was a very generous supporter. An ever-ready and liberal hand he had also in the multitude of demands made upon Dr. Muhlenberg's sympathy from all parts of the church. Dr. Muhlenberg had a fine generosity in pleading the cause of charities not his own, and his brother clergymen far and near, deacons, priests, and even bishops, as well as lay people came to him for aid in their need. He never turned to them a deaf or selfish ear, nor could he be happy until he had done all in his power to serve them.

His frequent resort in such cases, at this period, was Mr. Wolfe's house, where, after a facetious passage-at-arms between the two, he always obtained what he went for, and sometimes much more. An instance of the latter kind is remembered. Greeting Dr. Muhlenberg merrily, at one of the latter's usual morning calls in Madison Square, Mr. Wolfe inquired,

"Well! what's the matter now? Somebody's church burned down, eh!"

"Not quite so bad as that," said Dr. Muhlenberg; and then told his story.

"Well, how much do you want?"

"Oh, a hundred dollars."

Mr. Wolfe laughingly put into his hand twice the amount, saying,

"Will that do for you?"

Something similar, though on a vastly larger scale transpired in relation to the building of St. John's Inn, or the Old Man's Home at St. Johnland. After Dr. Muhlenberg had laid before Mr. Wolfe the plan of this charity the latter sent him ten thousand dollars, a subscription it was supposed to be towards the work, in which others would share. Mr. Adam Norrie, learning what had been initiated, said he would give five thousand to the same object, and Dr. Muhlenberg, greatly encouraged, went to Mr. Wolfe lo communicate the good news. He was at once drolly met with feigned displeasure, thus: "Pray, what business has Norrie interfering with my work? When the ten thousand was gone, couldn't you ask me for more? Did I say that was all you were to have?" And so, as stated in a previous chapter, St. John's Inn is the sole gift of Mr. John David Wolfe. He designed; had he survived, to complete his work by the beginning of an endowment; a purpose faithfully carried out, later, by the filial piety of his daughter, in the sum of fifty thousand dollars.

It has been justly said of Mr. Wolfe that "he never did any thing penuriously, but, at the same time, his range was almost boundless. If he had 'pet' charities, they did not shut others less engaging or less romantic from his vision. He saw, with as vivid a discernment, the claims of the cross of Christ on the coast of Cape Palmas, as he saw the needs of neglected and untaught children in the streets of his own city." The loss to Dr. Muhlenberg of such a friend is easily appreciated.

Frequent comment has been made upon the peculiar faculty of Dr. Muhlenberg in obtaining money for his many and costly charitable undertakings. The expression "he knew how to get at people's pockets" is a very common one, more common than properly applicable. He did not consciously possess any knowledge as to the best means to such an end; and no one, perhaps, having a work of charity on hand, has been less of a special pleader for it than he, at least as to personal and individual solicitation for the support of his own projects.

His remarkable power in this particular, is better expressed in the words of a venerable lady whose generous and systematic benefactions in all directions are constantly accompanied by an outspoken acknowledgment of indebtedness to Dr. Muhlenberg for the joy she finds in such deeds: "We owe it all to him. You know, he taught us to give." This was it. His unfeigned faith, his deep conviction and forcible enunciation of Christian responsibility in the matter of wealth, together with his simple life, singular unselfishness, and genius for opening up new and large channels of true benevolence, have, it must be allowed, been powerful influences in moving "the honest and good hearts" of his day and generation to a nobler and more Christian giving.

"It would be interesting," said one, "to know the entire sum which, from first to last, passed through Dr. Muhlenberg's hands for purposes of charity." Secretly and delicately as he did much of this part of his work, an approach to such an aggregate would be impossible. The question probably never entered his mind. He never made "looking glasses" for his good deeds. He rejoiced when the people gave generously for a good object, whether of his own proposing or not, would talk gayly about the amount, and, if of great personal interest, would be exhilarated by it; but those who knew him best, never heard him so much as glance at the probable total of money influenced by himself towards works of beneficence.

Project Canterbury