The Rev. William Augustus Muhlenberg

Additional Information: 275th Lecture Series
Dr. Walter Prehn, April 27, 2020

On April 27, 2020 Dr. Walter Prehn gave a lecture on the Rev. William Augustus Muhlenberg as part of the Saint James 275th Anniversary celebrations of its founding.

In the course of his presentation he talked about Muhlenberg’s contribution to hymnody. The text for the hymns I would not Live Alway and Baptismal Hymn are given here along with a timeline of his ministry at Saint James. Click here to view the video presentation.

I Would not Live Alway*

I would not live alway: I ask not to stay
Where storm after storm rises dark o’er our way;
The few lurid mornings that dawn on us here
Are enough for life’s woes, full enough for its cheer.

I would not live alway, thus fetter’d by sin,
Temptation without, and corruption within:
E’en the rapture of pardon is mingled with fears,
And the cup of salvation with penitent tears.

I would not live alway; no, welcome the tomb:
Since Jesus hath lain there, I dread not its gloom;
There sweet be my rest, till He bid me arise
To hail Him in triumph descending the skies.

Who, who would live alway, away from his God;
Away from yon heaven, that blissful abode?
Where the rivers of pleasure flow o’er the bright plains,
And the noontide of glory eternally reigns;

Where the saints of all ages in harmony meet,
Their Saviour and brethren, transported, to greet:
While the anthems of rapture unceasingly roll,
And the smile of the Lord is the feast of the soul.

WAM, 1825

* from Job’s lament in The Book of Job, 7.16-18

Baptismal Hymn

Saviour, who Thy flock art feeding
With the shepherd’s kindest care,
All the feeble gently leading,
While the lambs Thy bosom share.

Now, these little ones receiving,
Fold them in Thy gracious arm;
There, we know, Thy word believing,
Only there secure from harm.

Never, from Thy pasture roving,
Let them be the lion’s prey;
Let Thy tenderness, so loving,
Keep them through life’s dangerous way.

Then, within Thy fold eternal,
Let them find a resting place,
Feed in pastures ever vernal,
Drink the rivers of Thy grace.

WAM, 1826

WA Muhlenberg

William Augustus Muhlenberg, Jacob Eichholtz, 1836 Oil on canvas Courtesy of The Arthur H. Aufses, Jr., MD Archives, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Mount Sinai Health System, New York, NY.

William Augustus Muhlenberg’s Ministry at Saint James

  • Born into an illustrious patriot family in Philadelphia.

  • Becomes an Episcopalian at the age of eight (entirely by his own choice). Matriculates at the Philadelphia Academy (a junior prep school); shows promise.

  • WAM’s father, Henry William Muhlenberg (1772-1805), dies at the age of 33.

  • Matriculates at the Grammar School of the University of Pennsylvania. Rigorous studies.

  • Begins reading Classics at the University of Pennsylvania. One of the founders of the Philomathean Society (which still exists).

  • A.B. degree magna cum laude, University of Penna. He is only 18 years old. Awarded the Master’s degree a year later.

  • Having “read for orders” under the supervision of Bishop William White and Jackson Kemper, WAM is ordained to the diaconate. Founds “Education Society.”

  • Board of Directors, First Public School District of Penna. (Philadelphia).

  • Deacon WAM accompanies Bishop White to Lancaster to consecrate the “new” Church (Oct. 15). WAM ordained to the priesthood on Oct. 22. WAM begins his ministry as “Co-Rector” of Saint James Church (Dec. 1).

  • Saint James Church Sunday School opens (May 27). The school exceeds expectations. WAM begins reforms of the Parish treasury and finances. A Plea for Christian Hymns pamphlet is published. WAM shows himself a reformer.

  • 1822 WAM wants to introduce an evening service on Sundays. The initiative immediately attracts supporters and dissenters. Among the latter is Judge Robert Coleman, the eminent and powerful father of Sarah Hand Coleman with whom WAM is falling in love. The feeling is mutual. The young priest is introduced to the tension and opposition every true reformer faces.

  • Church Poetry is published. It is a collection of Psalms and Poems adapted for worship.The Public School building is erected in downtown Lancaster. Accommodating 600 students, the cost is $10,000 ($250,000 in today’s dollars). WAM led the push for the Second Public School District of Pennsylvania and serves as the de facto Superintendent. The “Lancastrian System” is installed by which is meant the instructional method of Joseph Lancaster of England. The key feature is that older student “monitors” are used to supervise other students, maintain good “tone” in the school, and do daily tutoring.

  • The Dispensary is organized at Saint James Church (Sept. 18) to meet the needs of indigent citizens. Robert Coleman dies (Aug.14). The Judge leaves instructions to his executors that WAM is not permitted to marry Sarah Hand Coleman. They honor the Judge’s wishes. Sarah Hand Coleman dies suddenly and mysteriously in Philadelphia (Nov. 1), age 24.

  • WAM resigns (June 30). Not a few influential Parishioners appealed to him to stay. He promised to pray and think about the matter but presently informed the Vestry that his decision was final. The “Valedictory Sermon” was written for children and preached at an evening service in the new church. WAM visits Europe to study high-caliber faith-based schools. He returns to Long Island as Rector of Flushing.