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Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, Pastor

Today we read about the impact Muhlenberg made on American hymnody, and we take our devotion from God’s Song in a New Land: Lutheran Hymnals in America.

Introduction

Henry Melchior Muhlenberg was a German-born pastor who came to the New World as a missionary to care for German Lutherans. He played a large role in creating the first German Lutheran hymnal in America. Today especially, we thank God for giving Muhlenberg the skills to care for Christians in such a way.

Devotional Reading

By 1748, through faithful preaching and pastoral work, Muhlenberg had organized the Ministerium of Pennsylvania, the first Lutheran synod in the United States. The matter of a hymnal to unite the scattered German Lutherans throughout the colonies, as important as it apparently was to Muhlenberg, was forced to wait upon more urgent matters.

It was not until 38 years after the formation of the Pennsylvania Ministerium that action was set in motion to correct this situation. On the afternoon of June 4, 1782, the 35th convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Ministerium in North America meeting in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, unanimously resolved [to create such a hymnal]. . . .

While the exact division of labor among the members of the committee is difficult to determine, it is clear that in the early stages of the work Muhlenberg played a most significant role. In shaping a hymnal for the German Lutherans in America, Muhlenberg, while retaining a strong confessional concern, drew from the sources that were at hand and with which he was acquainted. . . .

The Halle hymnbook provided both the pattern for the arrangement of the hymnal as well as the source for the bulk of the hymnody itself. The Ministerium meeting in York, Pennsylvania, in June 1784 resolved to print 1,000 copies of the book, that the account of the Destruction of Jerusalem and Luther’s Catechism remain without additions, that the Litany be transferred to the Prayer Book, and that the Preface prepared by the Senior Muhlenberg be printed unchanged, except for a slight addition from Pliny regarding the hymns of the early Christians.

The time it took for the hymnal to appear in printed form was hardly equal to the speed with which it had been compiled. There were problems with the printer, and a committee addressed the problems of shortening and altering some of the hymns. . . . On October 20, 1786, Muhlenberg received from Helmuth a copy of the portrait of Martin Luther which was to be used as the frontispiece for the hymnal. Sometime later that fall the hymnal appeared as the Erbauliche Liedersammlung zum Gottesdienstlichen Gebrauch in den Vereinigten Evangelisch Lutherischen Gemeinen in Nord-America, the first German Lutheran hymnbook to be made and published in America, containing 706 hymns. . . .

Muhlenberg’s Erbauliche Liedersammlung was a hymnal born in the period of pietism which, nevertheless, still retained a healthy concern for orthodoxy. It made significant provision for the church year, and breathed a warm and churchly spirit. Some 64 years after its appearance as conservative a journal as Der Lutheraner, edited by C. F. W. Walther of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States, could speak of it with high praise.

Devotional reading is from God’s Song in a New Land: Lutheran Hymnals in America, pages 45–48 © 1995 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Prayer

Our Lord speaks and we listen. His Word bestows what it says. Faith that is born from what is heard acknowledges the gifts received with eager thankfulness and praise. Music is drawn into this thankfulness and praise, enlarging and elevating the adoration of our gracious giver God.

Saying back to him what he has said to us, we repeat what is most true and sure. Most true and sure is his name, which he put upon us with the water of our Baptism. . . . Before him we acknowledge that we are sinners, and we plead for forgiveness. His forgiveness is given us, and we, freed and forgiven, acclaim him as our great and gracious God.

Prayer is from the introduction to Lutheran Worship, page 6 © 1982 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.

 

Written by

Anna Johnson

Deaconess Anna Johnson is a marketing manager at Concordia Publishing House. After graduating from the deaconess program at Concordia University Chicago, she continued her studies at the University of Colorado—Denver in education and human development. She has worked as a church youth director and served a variety of other nonprofit organizations, such as the Lutheran Mission Society of Maryland. Anna loves playing video games and drinking a hot cup of tea almost as much as she loves her cat and her husband.

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