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.
Drum began to roll, men kissed their wives, then walked down the aisle to enlist.
The next day, Pastor Muhlenberg led 300 men of his church to marched off and 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, and returned to America to finish his schooling at the Academy of Philadelphia (University of Pennsylvania).
He served Lutheran congregations, though he was ordained as an Anglican minister, as was the requirement in Colonial Virginia.
In 1774, he was elected to the House of Burgesses and became a delegate to the First Virginia Convention.
John Peter Muhlenberg heard Patrick Henry’s famous speech, “Give me liberty or give me death,” in 1775, and was moved to enlist.
General George Washington personally asked him to raised 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…”
Then the British bombarded New York and burned Fredrick’s church right in front of him, resulting in Fredrick joining the patriotic cause.
John Peter Muhlenberg fought until the end of the war, being promoted to the rank of Major-General.
He 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. Get the book, America’s God and Country Encyclopedia of Quotations After the war, John Peter Muhlenburg was elected to Pennsylvania’s Supreme Executive Council in 1784, and then Vice-President of Pennsylvania in 1787.
In 1789, he was elected a Representative to the first U.S. Congress.
In 1790, he 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 also elected to the U.S. Congress and became the first Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Both ordained pastors, John and Frederick Muhlenberg served in the first session of the U.S. Congress which passed the First Amendment, making sure that the new Federal Government would never “prohibit the free exercise” of their 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.
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.
In 1889, the State of Pennsylvania placed a statue of John Peter Muhlenberg in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall.
His statue is in front of the Shenendoah County Courthouse.
John Peter Gabriel Muhlenburg was memorialized in a poem by Thomas Buchanan Read, titled “The Rising,” published in William Holmes McGuffey 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!”
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 1746-1807 SERVING HIS CHURCH HIS COUNTRY HIS STATE
…THE “FIGHTING PARSON OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION”
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