He preached a message on Ecclesiastes 3:1:
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”
He closed his message by saying:
“In the language of the Holy Writ, there is a time for all things. There is a time to preach and a time to fight. And now is the time to fight.”
This was John Peter Gabriel Muhlenburg, a 30 year old member of the Virginia House of Burgesses…and a pastor.
At the end of his sermon, January 21, 1776, John Peter Muhlenburg threw off his clerical robes to reveal the uniform of an officer in the Continental Army.
Drums began to roll, men kissed their wives, and they walked down the aisle to enlist.
The next day, Pastor Muhlenberg led 300 men of his church to join General Washington’s Continental Army as the 8th Virginia Regiment.
John Peter Muhlenberg was born OCTOBER 1, 1746, and he died the same day sixty-one years later, OCTOBER 1, 1807.
As a youth, he lived with relatives in Germany from 1763-1767: first in the city of Halle (Saale) in the southern part of the German state Saxony-Anhalt; then in the northern German port city of Lübeck in Schleswig-Holstein.
John Peter Muhlenberg served briefly in the German dragoons.
He returned to America to finish his schooling at the Academy of Philadelphia (University of Pennsylvania).
He visited England in 1772.
John Peter Muhlenberg served in Lutheran congregations in Virginia, though the colony required him to be ordained as an Anglican minister in order to do so.
In 1774, he was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses and became a delegate to the First Virginia Convention.
John Peter Muhlenberg heard Patrick Henry’s famous “Give me liberty or give me death” speech in 1775, and was inspired to enlist.
General George Washington personally asked him to raise soldiers and serve as their Colonel.
John Peter’s brother, Fredrick Augustus Mulenberg, was a Lutheran minister in New York who opposed John Peter joining Washington’s army:
“You have become too involved in matters which, as a preacher, you have nothing whatsoever to do…”
After the British bombarded New York and burned Fredrick Muhlenberg’s church right in front of him, Fredrick decided to join the patriotic cause.
John Peter Muhlenberg and his men endured the freezing winter of Valley Forge and saw action at Brandywine, Germantown, Monmouth, and Stonypoint.
He helped force British General Cornwallis to surrender at Yorktown.
By the end of the war John Peter Muhlenberg was promoted to the rank of Major-General.
John Peter Muhlenburg was elected to Pennsylvania’s Supreme Executive Council in 1784, and in 1787 he was elected Vice-President of Pennsylvania.
In 1789, he was elected a Representative to the first U.S. Congress.
In 1790, John Peter Muhlenberg was a member of the Pennsylvania’s State Constitutional Convention and in 1793, was the first founder of the Democratic-Republican Societies.
John’s father, Henry Muhlenberg, was a founder of the Lutheran Church in America.
John’s brother, Fredrick Augustus Mulenberg, was elected to the Continental Congress, 1779, and was elected Speaker of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, 1780-1783.
Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg presided over Pennsylvania’s Convention to Ratify the U.S. Constitution.
Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg was elected to the U.S. Congress where he was chosen as the first Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Both John and Frederick Muhlenberg were ordained pastors and served in the first session of the U.S. Congress which passed the Bill of Rights.
The Bill of Rights contained the First Amendment which was to make sure that the new Federal Government would not “prohibit the free exercise” of religion, nor take away the freedom of speech, press, the right of the people peaceably to assemble, or petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The First Amendment also insured that one Christian denomination would not be favored of over another, as Supreme Court Justice Joseph wrote in A Familiar Exposition of the Constitution of the United States, 1840:
“The real object of the First Amendment was not to countenance, much less to advance Mohammedanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity, but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment which should give to a hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government.”
Justice Samuel Chase wrote in Maryland Supreme Court case of Runkel v. Winemiller, 1799:
“By our form of government, the Christian religion is the established religion; and all sects and denominations of Christians are placed upon the same equal footing, and are equally entitled to protection in their religious liberty.”
John Peter Muhlenberg was elected a U.S. Senator in 1801.
He served as a Trustee of the University of Pennsylvania, which honored him with a statue.
His statue is in front of the Shenendoah County Courthouse.
In Washington, D.C., at the corner of Connecticut Ave. and Ellicott St., there is a bronze memorial to John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg, with the inscription:
JOHN PETER GABRIEL MUHLENBERG
…THE “FIGHTING PARSON OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION”
In 1889, the State of Pennsylvania placed a statue of John Peter Muhlenberg in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall.
John Peter Gabriel Muhlenburg was memorialized in a poem by Thomas Buchanan Read, titled “The Rising,” published in William Holmes McGuffey’s Fifth Eclectic Reader (Cincinnati & New York: Van Antwerp, Bragg & Co., revised ed., 1879, Lesson LXV, pp. 200-204):
…Within its shade of elm and oak
The church of Berkley Manor stood:
There Sunday found the rural folk,
And some esteemed of gentle blood.
In vain their feet with loitering tread
Passed ‘mid the graves where rank is naught:
All could not read the lesson taught
In that republic of the dead.
The pastor rose: the prayer was strong;
The psalm was warrior David’s song;
The text, a few short words of might,-
“The Lord of Hosts shall arm the right!”
He spoke of wrongs too long endured,
Of sacred rights to be secured;
Then from his patriot tongue of flame
The startling words for Freedom came.
The stirring sentences he spake
Compelled the heart to glow or quake,
And, rising on his theme’s broad wing,
And grasping in his nervous hand
The imaginary battle-brand,
In face of death he dared to fling
Defiance to a tyrant king.
Even as he spoke, his frame renewed
In eloquence of attitude,
Rose, as it seemed, a shoulder higher;
Then swept his kindling glance of fire
From startled pew to breathless choir;
When suddenly his mantle wide
His hands impatient flung aside,
And, lo! He met their wondering eyes
Complete in all a warrior’s guise.
A moment there was awful pause,-
When Berkley cried, “Cease, traitor! Cease!
God’s temple is the house of peace!”
The other shouted, “Nay, not so,
When God is with our righteous cause:
His holiest places then are ours,
His temples are our forts and towers
That frown upon the tyrant foe:
In this the dawn of Freedom’s day
There is a time to fight and pray!”
And now before the open door-
The warrior priest had ordered so-
The enlisting trumpet’s sudden soar
Rang through the chapel, o’er and o’er,
Its long reverberating blow,
So loud and clear, it seemed the ear
Of dusty death must wake and hear.
And there the startling drum and fife
Fired the living with fiercer life;
While overhead with wild increase,
Forgetting its ancient toll of peace,
The great bell swung as ne’er before:
It seemed as it would never cease;
And every word its ardor flung
From off its jubilant iron tongue
Was, “War! War! War!”
“Who dares”-this was the patriot’s cry,
As striding from the desk he came –
“Come out with me, in Freedom’s name,
For her to live, for her to die?”
A hundred hands flung up reply,
A hundred voices answered “I!”
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