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Loving Words to the Dear Memory




Church of the Holy Communion,



April 22d, 1877.







Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, 2009


"Whoso liveth and believeth in Me shall never die."--St. John 11:26.

When the beloved pastor of St. Luke's Hospital quietly fell asleep on the evening of the first Sunday after Easter, there passed into the rest of God not merely a Saintly Spirit, but one whose influence has molded, in a wonderful way, the mind and conscience of the Church for more than half a century. I have not the ability, nor have I the heart, to portray at all exhaustively the sweet and noble elements which entered into the character of our departed Father, or to analyze satisfactorily the causes of his remarkable influence; that will be done ably, and at the same time lovingly, in the Memorial service to be held here on Sunday evening next. Indeed, I had not proposed to add any poor words of my own to the numberless tributes which have been already offered to his dear Memory--the secular papers themselves becoming [3/4] preachers of funeral sermons. But there have come before me such sweet and precious memories of my long service with him as a son in the Gospel, of the happy days passed under his fatherly oversight at St. Paul's College, and of the life-long influence of his early teachings, by which my character and habits of thought have been so far permanently moulded that,--although in some things the Master may have changed with advancing years, the Scholar still stands where he was placed in early life by the Master he so truly reverenced and loved--remembering it all, the heart has refused to allow the lips to be altogether silent, and I would ask to lay at least a few loving words, as my thank-offering, upon his recent grave.

Associated with him so closely in the earlier years of my ministry, few can speak with fuller personal knowledge of that admirable and, in some respects, exceedingly remarkable combination of lovely qualities, which drew to him the love and confidence of all, and especially of the young, and which made his life the starting point of so many waves of influence whose quickening power has been felt everywhere in, and far beyond, our own communion. Of his intellectual power, although veiled to a great degree from common observation by his retiring disposition and remarkably humble [4/5] estimate of his abilities, no one, at all familiar with the numerous productions of his pen, will speak but with profound respect. As a preacher, while he aimed at no distinction and cultivated no grace of oratory--although few ever equalled him as a reader of the Holy Scriptures,--he was effective through the clear simplicity of his style, the poetic coloring which his exquisite taste gave to all he wrote, the fertility of his imagination, and the strong faith in Christ which made real to him, and so helped him to make real to others, the narratives and teachings of the Bible, and especially of the Holy Gospels. No sermons, at least none that I have ever heard, and I suppose all his boys will agree in this, have left a deeper impression upon my mind than those which he preached to his young disciples in the little Chapel at College Point and here, in the earlier years of the Holy Communion. In all that came from his pen, we meet with the same unusual combination of strength and simplicity, great imaginative power, sometimes genial humor, always exquisite taste and a keen appreciation of poetic beauty.

But, after all, it is not of his intellectual ability that I can now think or speak. In fact, such was the lovableness of Dr. Muhlenberg's character, so grand in its simplicity, so full of tenderness, while replete with the elements of power, so childlike in [5/6] its true humility, so totally unselfish--that personal feeling for the man himself rather hinders than helps as yet to a true estimate of his life in its principles and results. But this warm and unselfish nature, we may not forget, was the foundation of an unusual saintliness of character, wrought out through an extended life by the influence of the Spirit which made him, what we so seldom find even among the clergy of the Church, literally a follower of Him who for love's sake became poor that He might make many rich. Always a quiet and studious boy, from the time of his confirmation at fourteen he gave himself--as the Diary which he kept at the time, with its frequent entries of prayers and earnest resolutions, is a witness--unreservedly to the service of his Redeemer. Graduated from College at seventeen, he entered at once upon a course of preparation for the sacred ministry, and at twenty-one, the earliest canonical age, received the laying on of hands for the Diaconate from the venerable founder of the American Church, Bishop White. From that youthful act of self-consecration, his life was given wholly to the service of Jesus Christ; and from the sanctification of his rich and generous nature by that unwavering faith which is the key to his life and its results, grew that broad and tender charity which has won for him such universal respect and reverence. His [6/7] mind was thoroughly imbued with faith in a personal Christ. Nothing of what is ordinarily called a theologian, his whole creed seemed to be summed up in that sentence, which stands over the Holy Table at St. Johnland--"Believe in His Son, Jesus Christ, and have fellowship, one with another."

But I may not linger upon such sweet and precious memories; nor, on the other hand do I propose to detain you by any thing more than the most rapid sketch of that rich life, which was the outward blossoming of the richer character. Yet the most rapid review of his life-work cannot but move our astonishment and admiration. It is true that Dr. Muhlenberg was singularly favored in the many friends whom he drew to his side, rich in worldly ability as well as their warmth of affection; and yet more, in the time of his earlier service. His sensitive mind caught the first impulses for good which flowed from the awakening of Church life in England in the first years of the Oxford movement; and all through life he was on the crest of the advancing wave, and, if I can say it with reverence, the forerunner of the coming Christ. But we may not fail to remember it was his noble tenderness, his religious fervor, the keenness of his insight into spiritual truth, and his profound sympathy with the beautiful, which fitted him to feel [7/8] and convey to the Church at large those incoming waves of a higher religious life. At first the assistant of Bishop White, he was in his old age the only surviving link between the early days of the Church's weakness and low estate in this country and its illustrious present, so bright with promises of a yet greater future. It is not saying too much to say, that almost every extensive movement of spiritual life in that Church for the past fifty years can be traced back, in some way, to his life, as its point of departure. Contemplate the condition of the Church when he began his ministry--its spiritual deadness--the hum-drum services, devoid of life and beauty--the small appreciation of the Christian year--not a Church school--nor, so far as I can learn, a single Church Institution of any prominence in existence. Then place in contrast with it the richness and wonderful expansion of Church life and work to-day--and you are contemplating a change, not exclusively, certainly, but very largely, the result of this one life of faith and love.

Early in his ministry the mind of Dr. Muhlenberg was deeply impressed by the importance, then little felt, of Christian education. Against the advice of friends and to the sacrifice of his fortune, first, in the Institute at Flushing, and afterwards at St. Paul's College, College Point, he [8/9] brought as near to a perfect realization, as it perhaps ever has been brought, his idea of a Church school and college. I speak with enthusiasm, as all who have been boys at College Point must do--but not beyond the bounds of justice, I think--when I claim that the influence for good of St. Paul's College can hardly be overestimated, not merely in the religious training of its students, although in that respect its success was most remarkable--at least one hundred of the clergy, numbering among them some of our most eminent Bishops, Professors, and Pastors, tracing, it is said their choice of the sacred ministry to the impressions received at College Point--but it made honorable the hitherto slighted office of the teacher and woke the dormant conscience of the Church generally to the vast importance of a Christian training of the young.

With the erection of this Free Church, through the piety of his sister, at the dying request of her husband and as his memorial, a new sphere of labor presented itself to the enthusiasm of Dr. Muhlenberg. Naturally his great mental activity, always planning and inventing, inclined him to follow the advice of St. Paul, "to forget the things which are behind." In this new field he saw the providential opening for realizing those ideas of the Church as the Brotherhood in Christ with which his mind [9/10] had become thoroughly imbued, and which were in after life the one root from which sprang those noble works of benevolence and charity with which his name, in this city, will be chiefly connected. Here, his fine poetic taste and reverential spirit, as well as his profound love for the Church and its holy seasons, found a wide range of action and made this little sanctuary a "Bethlehem Ephratah," "least" among the churches in one sense, but spiritually the birth place of a "princely power," the starting place of an influence felt everywhere throughout the Church. Much that was strongly opposed at the beginning, has since passed into common practice of the Church, and has added to the attraction of its service. This, let it be remembered to the honor of its first Pastor, was the first Free Church established in New York. Here were introduced, for the first time it is believed in this country, the Daily Service, the Weekly Communion, Choirs of boys, the Chanting of the Psalter, the Christmas Tree--inherited from Dr. Muhlenberg's German ancestry--the use of flowers at Easter as symbols of the Resurrection--a practice now indeed carried to such a silly and wasteful extreme, many churches seeming rather flower-shops at Easter than Sanctuaries of the Almighty, that he almost regretted that he had introduced the custom--and most of [10/11] those other usages, now in the common practice of the Church, which add interest and beauty to the seasons of the Christian year.

But the active mind of Dr. Muhlenberg could not be content with the routine of parish work. Full of the idea of the Christian Brotherhood, the evils of the divisions existing among the professed followers of the same Redeemer were deeply felt by him. The prayer of that Redeemer, "that they may be one as We are one," seemed to him to be a call to unity, which could not but be heard by the devout believer. Hence, with great ability, in the columns of the "Evangelical Catholic," which he edited for several years, as well as in the pamphlets published by him, a broader Catholicity was advocated than was familiar at that time to the thought of the Church. The freer use of our inherited forms of prayer, the adaptation of the service more fully to the Christian year, and especially the extension of the Orders of the Church to those who stumbled at a full reception of our whole ecclesiastical system--our Episcopate thus becoming a golden bond of union between the divided followers of Christ--these were among the subjects upon which he wrote with power, and formed the basis of the "Memorial," presented by him and others to the House of Bishops as a "Council of the Catholic Episcopate." Whatever may have [11/12] been the direct effect of these efforts after Church Unity, there can be no doubt that to the controversy awakened by the "Memorial" can be traced much of that more generous spirit which prevails in the Church to-day, its freer life, and increasing desire for a restoration of religious unity. Of the later and more remarkable fruits of Dr. Muhlenberg's life, I hardly need speak. While visiting among the sick poor in the tenement houses in this neighborhood, the dream rose before him of the unknown Hospital in which Christian Faith should minister to the suffering, not for gain, but from love to Jesus Christ. Already, influenced by the remarkable success of the Kaiserwerth Deaconesses, he had founded a Sisterhood, which should do for our Church what is done for the Church of Rome by its bands of consecrated women. She, who, for thirty years since, by her remarkable executive power, has been as a hand to him for realizing in permanent form the grand ideas of his genius, the present Sister Superintendent of St. Luke's, was the first in the English Church, or any of its branches, who gave herself to the Sister's life--and by her admirable "Letters on Sisterhoods," has done much to remove prejudice, and establish Sisterhoods in the confidence of the Church.

On one St. Luke's day, as you know, the project of a Church Hospital, or as he loved to call it, [12/13] a "Hospital Church," was publicly advocated by Dr. Muhlenberg, and a collection of thirty dollars was made as the beginning of a building fund. This beginning was followed up by the enthusiastic efforts of Dr. Muhlenberg in private, among wealthy friends, such as was the honored merchant Prince Robert B. Minturn, whose confidence and affection he had entirely won, and by a series of strong and persuasive sermons that he preached in a number of the city churches. You know the wonderful success that followed. St. Luke's became a permanent fact, and has not only proved a priceless blessing in soul and body to many hundreds of God's suffering children, but has raised the tone and vastly improved the character of the City Hospitals, while it has been the "first-born among many brethren;" and scarcely a large city at the present day in the land but has been kindled to emulation, and can boast its Christian Hospital or Home. The last work of our lamented Father, the Village of St. Johnland, was, as he felt, the crowning fruit of his long life, because the best embodiment of the Spirit of Christian Brotherhood. When it was first proposed its author was stigmatized as a dreamer: and never shall I forget the answer of our beloved Disciple. "So be it! but is it not said by the Prophet, that your old men shall dream dreams?"

[14] That "old" as he was--his silver hair for many years a crown of striking beauty--he was something more than dreamer, they felt, on Thursday last, who, from the little church on the hill-side at St. Johnland, followed his dear remains to their last resting place in the St. Johnland graveyard, and from that quiet spot looked down upon the home of peace and love which was his Benjamin, the son of his old age--with its Hospital of Crippled Children--its Home for Aged Men--its Refuges for Young--and its pleasant Cottages for the Widow and Orphan. As, in building a rest for the suffering ones of Jesus, he was building the last earthly home for himself, so where should the Apostle of love in our day and generation find a peaceful repose until the Resurrection, but in his own St. Johnland, the one spot consecrated to the love of the Elder Brother, and to that Communion of believers which finds its centre and life in His love?

To a life so fragrant with Divine Charity, God has been pleased to give an ending which rounds that life to its perfection. With a mind bright and clear almost to the very end,--a soul full of gratitude and praise to the dear father in Heaven,--no great suffering to disturb his peace--the end of our beloved Pastor was the passing of a Saint calmly and gradually to the Eternal Rest. A [14/15] whole volume might be filled with his sweet and happy sayings, all redolent with the love of Jesus. His chief utterances were rather praise than prayer. With all his weakness he was pre-eminently happy in the Lord, and even when sinking into lethargy during prayer, as he did now and then when receiving his last Communion, praise seemed to call back his half absent Spirit, and in the Trisagion--"with Angels and Archangels," and at the Gloria in Excelsis, his voice came out with almost its old strength and beauty. Blessed Saint! He had indeed almost done with prayer, but praise was the anticipation of his Eternal life, so close at hand. "Remember," he said to a dear friend on Good Friday evening, "these are my death-words: 'Whoso liveth and believeth in Me shall never die!' " and it seems to me that it would be difficult to find a more lovely illustration of the truth which they convey than the long and most fruitful life of our dear Father. Faith in a personal Christ was the fountain-head of his noble living, and that "living" is one which can never be touched by death. Another John, he lies in the bosom of the Lord in Paradise, but his memory shall live in the tender love of many hearts; and no eye, less far-seeing than that of the Creator, shall trace to their end the purifying and blessed influences which had their starting place in his [15/16] loving and quiet labor. Those influences shall bless the world, long after St. Luke's itself shall yield to the corroding touch of time; and the little graveyard at St. Johnland be filled with the dust of many to rise up in coming generations, and bless the wise charity of him, who gave outward form in it, to the one great thought which filled his life: "The Brotherhood of Jesus!" True, dear Saint! in thy own life and death we read the faithfulness of the assurance, "Whoso liveth, and believeth in Me shall never die!"

For a life so sweet and holy, so rich in Christian influence, so peaceful and happy in its earthly close, what can we do but praise and magnify the Author and Finisher of its Faith, and, as we enshrine its precious memories in our hearts, pray for grace to follow His bright example, and at last, to share with him the rest which God hath prepared for the Merciful and Pure in Heart.

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