Project Canterbury

The Life and Work of William Augustus Muhlenberg
Doctor in Divinity

By Anne Ayres

New York: T. Whittaker, 1889.

CHAPTER XXVII. 1874-1876.

Gradual Convalescence.--Never resumed his Pen.--Gleanings from his Friend's Diary.--"Is it not legitimate?"--Visions of St. Johnland.--People asking his Blessing.--Shrinking from Compliment.--Fear of human Praise.--What People asked of him--Esteeming others better than himself.--"Christ is all."--A Conscience void of Offence.--Last Use of his private Journals.--A Visit to the General Convention.--Improved Health.--Could Enjoy a Trip to Europe.--Counts his Residence in St. Luke's a Favor.--Never such another Christian within those Walls.--Delight in small Services for the Poor.--"Don't be too sharp in finding them out."--Notably Victimized.--Nothing more to take care of

AFTER a summer of oppressive weakness lie recovered, by almost imperceptible degrees, a measure of strength, so that on Thanksgiving Day, for the first time in seven months, he was able to assist in the Chapel services and other ministries of the house. But he never took up his pen again, except for a brief note, or to write down some of the many rhymes with which, to the end, he amused himself. A diary of his remaining days was kept by a constant companion, without his knowledge, and from its pages is derived what further insight is afforded of his inner life, as well as of the current of circumstances in which he was concerned.

From the beginning of his illness he took much comfort in being at St. Luke's. One of the doctors kindly expressed regret that he should be sick in his own Hospital.

He immediately rejoined, "Is it not legitimate?" adding later, "Thanks be to God that I am here--in this House of Mercy, this Lazarus's Palace, which I was allowed to build for poor sufferers, and now have for a home to die in. It's poetry!"

As he began to amend, used as he was to work, the enforced idleness of utter debility oppressed him. "The dear Sundays go by," he said, "but I'm not sick in soul."

St. Johnland was his most frequent topic of conversation, and supplied many a happy reverie that helped beguile the hours when he was "loaded down with weakness." "I have great joy in the thought of St. Johnland," he said one morning. "I have visions of its future which would make another Retro-prospectus. I see hundreds and hundreds of children, particularly poor girls who so much need protection, employed in different industries, especially horticulture--St. John-land the centre of Evangelical Catholicism--a church in a garden--'Evangelical Catholic' is too good a name to be lost--Tracts, catechisms, must be published there--That will be work for the children. The principles of the Church of the Testimony must be kept up. The historic episcopacy must be preserved, but other evangelists must not be ignored. Sisters of St. Johnland must be simple deaconesses, part and parcel of the congregation. I rejoice to think of the Evangelical Catholic principles to be disseminated through St. Johnland, etc., etc. . . ." He continued in this strain so long, his breakfast, meanwhile spoiling, that the friend to whom he addressed himself thought best to call his attention to the fact. "Yes, yes," he said, "I must stop. I'm fairly on one of my excursions. Sometimes, you know, I want to go; yet when I think of St. Johnland, I would like to live a little longer. But as the Lord will. The great thing is to be wholly consecrated to Jesus Christ."

At another time he said: "St. Johnland is a great pleasure to me. I have unusual comfort in thinking about it. As this joy does not come from the old Adam in me, it must come from the Lord. And he, who has brought it into being will, I trust, carry it forward. I should like to have seen it a little farther on--but Moses had to climb Pisgah to see Canaan, and I must climb the hill of faith to see the future of St. Johnland--Accept St. Johnland, O Lord, let the foundation of it be for thy glory, which it may be the more that I shall be gone and have no glory in it."

His merry humor did not fail to relieve the tedium of his sick room, occasionally. A visitor one day remarked that he was looking much better. "Oh, an old clock goes well, now and then," he replied. Again:

I stay too long. I ought to make my bow, but God knows best." One day feeling an access of strength, he said:

"Lord build us up, that we may build for thee,
And to thy glory all the building be."

Gentleness, sweetness, and considerateness pervaded all he said and did. To those nearest and dearest to him, every little attention brought some pleasant acknowledgment, and the grace at each meal was a fresh and original giving of thanks. For example: A tray with some refreshment being brought to him, he said, "Thanks, O Lord, for this food, and for the friend who brings it. Grant that our friendship may be more and more consecrated here, and then consummated above." There seemed always to be present with him that "hungering and thirsting after righteousness whose very longings are bliss."

Many came to ask his blessing in these days. Strong men would bow themselves in tears beside the couch of "the best friend they ever had," that his hands might be laid upon their head, and mothers brought their young children. One of these said, "My little daughter has never seen Dr. Muhlenberg, and I wish so much that she should remember him; if he would but speak just a word to her." Such requests, when he was well enough, were never denied; but if any attempted afterwards to speak of his goodness, etc., he would, at once, interrupt them, very commonly by joining his hands with theirs and proposing to say the Lord's Prayer together.

At another time, when in his ordinary health, a rather grand lady asked in flattering words for his benediction on her two children, whom she presented a little ostentatiously as having been blessed by the Pope of Rome, and the Emperor of some other place. Without any departure from his habitual courtesy, but with a look of pained humility, he drew back, saying, "Excuse me, madam. I possess no such power."

He shrank instinctively from any unreality, and with this, from effusive compliment He could enjoy honest appreciation, but usually seemed afraid of all human praise.

To an acquaintance visiting at St. Johnland, who was sincerely expressing herself with some warmth in commendation of his undertaking, he said:

"Stop! or else when I get there," pointing upward, "they'll shut the door on me saying, ' You've had your reward.'"

When his health broke down, the friend, upon whom devolved the burden of his private correspondence, could not but marvel at the extent and variety of the demands made upon his sympathy and benevolence from all quarters. A minute of certain instances occurring within a very brief period gives the following: "A lay reader in the West wants a commentary, selected, donated, and sent out to him--A missionary wants Dr. Muhlenberg's endorsement and introduction to a certain lady of wealth and benevolence--A grandfather wants sympathy and advice for a young grandson--An editor wants the history of a beneficiary--A country minister wants board found for, and visit paid to, a parishioner of his in the neighborhood of St. Luke's--A stranger wants the Doctor's autograph, and a few words besides--A poor woman and eight children, newly from Ireland, want help; their minister at the moment of departure, told them to find out a clergyman of New York named Muhlenberg, and they would be all right--The librarian of a literary institution in a distant town wants a valuable work, loaned by Dr. Muhlenberg, to be converted into a gift;" and so on.

He used to take such demands as a matter of course, and, in his unfeigned humility, always esteemed the charitable labors of others as far exceeding his own. "What is my offering to the Lord," he would say, "compared to that of those poor-living, hard-working city missionaries?" Again, in bidding a loving farewell to a young brother bound for missionary service in Africa, he said: "You are going to the gold coast, but we shall meet again in the golden streets. Perhaps yours is the shorter way. Nothing that I have ever done is as great a token of love to Christ, as your going to Africa."

It was this generous spirit of appreciation, and the encouragement he was ever ready to give to another in doing good, that made him so great an inspirer of work. "Thy gentleness hath made me great," we all have to say to the Heavenly Master in any success, and Dr. Muhlenberg's large, unselfish sympathy with his under workers, his "gentleness," like his Lord's, often, made such, wonder at their capabilities of usefulness.

While reading the Life of Gordon, by Newman Hall, he condemned himself that the love of God had not been more directly the motive of his works of benevolence--"Still," he added, "I can claim that love to man, flowing from love to God, has been their impulse." Again: "Thanks be to God that I have done what I have. It would not be for the glory of God for me to nay that the church and the world are nothing the better for ray having lived. That would be to look at it as all from myself, instead of from God working in me. By his grace I am what I am, and to him be all the praise; I have enough to ask pardon for. "We can not be justified by our works, but our works prove our faith. ... It is Christ or nothing! I have always felt this."

At another time: "If I am called away now, I know whom I have believed. I am a miserable sinner, but Christ is all-sufficient. He is my all in all. . . "We are partakers of Christ, if we hold fast our confidence .... What great things we have to live upon! I do not say we live up to them, but we do live upon them. . . . Think of the future--the future is every thing or nothing. It can't be nothing, therefore it must be every thing. And so it is, and Christ is All. Day by day, I am surrendered to his will whether living or dying."

Later, and as though he had been searching himself through and through, he expressed devout thankfulness that he had "a conscience void of offence towards God and man." ". . . . I have no secrets to burden me. I have never said in the ear of man or woman that which might not be proclaimed on the house-top. ... I never knowingly wronged a creature of a farthing."

Frequent illustrations have been given of Dr. Muhlenberg's habitual serious observance of the anniversary of his birth. The recurrence of the day this year (1874) was marked by turning back for the last time to the leaves of his earlier journals. Possibly he found himself no longer able to use these records according to his design in keeping them; for during the two succeeding days, he gave what strength he could command to an oversight of his private papers, and collecting the manuscript journals into a pile, said to the friend to whom he bequeathed the priceless treasures: "These are yours--They are mine no longer. Take them, but see they fall into no one else's hands. I hope you will find some grains of gold in the sands of my life."

He had so far recovered at this time as to enjoy a daily drive. On one of these occasions (Oct. 31, 1874), when the General Convention was in session in New York, a gentleman who was in the carriage with him, proposed, as they passed St. John's Chapel, that he should step in for a moment. He did so, attended by his friend, and received a warm welcome. The house suspended its business, and he was conducted in a sort of triumph to the President's seat. He remained but a few minutes. Bishop Whipple, whom he met on leaving the church, urged him to lunch with the bishops, but owing to his feebleness he dared not comply.

This passing contact with his brethren, and their spontaneous kindness, cheered him much and disposed him to other pleasant exertions beyond the precincts of the Hospital, to which he had been so long confined. He even talked of the probable benefit of another trip to Europe. "I could enjoy it, if it were right,"--then, suddenly checking himself--"Dear Lord, forgive me. After a long life of favors, my cup running over, here am I planning fresh pleasure for the brief remnant of my days." It was never spoken of again.

He gradually threw off most of his invalid habits, and resumed his meals with the Sisters, excepting only the early breakfast In his disability for the exercise, bodily and mental, of more vigorous days, he found increased delight in personal ministrations to the poor, whether patients of the Hospital or supplicants from" outside. He spent daily some hours in this way, with constant ascriptions of praise for so convenient opportunities of usefulness. "Thanks be to God," he would say, "for my residence here, where I can so easily speak the word in season to some poor sufferer." . Again: "I consider it the highest privilege to spend my old age under this roof. This ministering to the sick is to me a means of special nearness to Christ . . . I would not exchange my home here for any other, how excellent soever. ... I am repaid manifold any toil I have ever had for St Luke's."

With his venerable and saintly mien, he made a striking picture as he went about the Hospital in those days. His habitual in-door dress was a long black wrapper, broadly bordered with purple, which, fitting close to the spare figure, set off handsomely his abundant white hair, or harmonized quaintly with the low-crowned, broad-brimmed hat, familiar to all who knew him, which he was accustomed to wear along the passages in colder weather. His presence was a benediction throughout the house, and his ministrations in the wards more and more tender and spiritual. "There will never be such another Christian within these walls," sobbed a poor woman, as she took grateful leave on her recovery--

"True prophet, gentlest priest, for offering The service of his own great soul of love On altars not of human, hands, but woes, Consecrate ever by his Lord's own woes."

The lowliest offices of love were welcomed as choice opportunities of ministering to Christ. After giving a dinner to a poor purblind man, just discharged from the Charity Hospital, and which he made the latter eat in his own study, the maid-servant met him carrying the tray and empty plates back to the dining-room--

"Oh, Doctor, Doctor," she exclaimed, "why did you not call me to get these?"

"No, no," was the reply, "I am a servant in the Lord's Hotel."

Often he would take out of a Sister's hand the bowl of soup or plate of food--"the cup of cold water" so often asked at the Hospital door by one and another hungry wayfarer, saying, "Let me carry it. It is my joy to wait upon them." Thus were his days filled with a multitude of small services, sweet with divine affection.

It required a little vigilance on the part of those around him to prevent a complete spoliation of his wardrobe, in his unwillingness to retain a garment for himself that would serve some poor needy brother. Occasionally, it was thought, these gifts did not go to the most deserving recipients, and the liberty was taken of gently intimating that, in one or two cases, he had been imposed upon. He answered meekly, "I am not so much imposed upon as you think; but, it is the goodness of God that leads men to repentance, and I hope by being kind to these people to do their souls good." He probably never gave temporal aid without a word of spiritual counsel.

"But if you give away so bountifully," a friend remarked, "you will have nothing at all for yourself."

"Then I shall be the more like my Master!"

At length, these outside applicants growing too numerous for his personal attention, he was persuaded to accept the assistance of the chaplain of the Hospital in sifting some of the stories. The latter, being on one occasion summoned from his company to see some poor persons, Dr. Muhlenberg called him back for a moment and naively said, "Don't be too sharp, J-----, in finding them out;" adding solemnly, "if thou, Lord, should'st be extreme to mark what is done amiss--O Lord, who may abide it?"

In a certain instance, however, he was notably victimized, and his bearing throughout was so characteristic, the story must not be left untold. Returning from his drive on a wintry afternoon, he found that a young man, whom, on the recommendation of a certain benevolent association, he had two days before taken into the house as office boy, had absconded while he was absent, carrying with him Dr. Muhlenberg's gold watch, a recent birthday gift, an antique silver snuff-box brought by a friend from abroad, and a pair of gold spectacles which had belonged to his mother. ... It was a robbery of peculiar aggravation. The youth had told a most piteous story of his misfortunes; and Dr. Muhlenberg, taking him into Ms study, talked long and earnestly with him, seeking to comfort him, and treating him lovingly as a father. He even gave him his own over-shoes, lest, being from a warm climate--he was a Virginian--the snow that then lay thick on the ground should give him cold in doing his errands. It was this care and kindness which enabled the fellow to see the little valuables, and so strip his benefactor of every thing of the sort which he possessed. Dr. Muhlenberg's treatment of the theft was striking. First he expressed his grief that the boy should be so wicked, then his satisfaction that it was so clear who was the culprit, next, with the utmost sweetness, he put on a very common pair of iron-rimmed glasses that were found for him, saying: "Well! now I haven't another earthly thing to take care of," adjusting them with smiling satisfaction, as though he had come into a possession. Later he said with a sigh: "As I talked with the lad, the words, 'I was a stranger and ye took me in,' came to my mind, and as a boy was wanted in the office, in the name of the Lord I took him in. I hope some of the things I said may yet come back to him and do him good." In all like occurrences he ever showed himself that rare and noble sort of Christian who, while hating the sin, loves the poor sinner, and would pour himself out to save him.

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