In 1746 Peter Muhlenberg was born in the Pennsylvania colony. His parents had settled there as Lutheran Missionaries from Germany. Much of Peter’s youth however, was spent in Europe, for his father wanted him educated in Germany. Young Peter bristled at the idea of schoolbooks and lessons. So, his tutors apprenticed him to a grocer for six years. Muhlenberg had other ideas though and escaped to join the army before returning to Philadelphia in 1767 to study for the ministry under his father.
Eventually, Peter did settle down and was ordained for the ministry by the Anglican church. His first pastorate was a small church in Virginia. Muhlenberg was beloved by his congregation and quickly became a leader in the community. He was elected to the Virginia Legislature in 1774 and became an outspoken advocate for colonial rights. He was present at St. John’s Church in Richmond when Patrick Henry gave his immortal cry, “Give me liberty or give me death!”
Peter was so moved, he enlisted under George Washington and returned to his congregation to give his farewell sermon. He began by reading from Ecclesiastes 3:1, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Looking up from the pulpit, he said, “There is a time to preach and a time to pray, but there is also a time to fight and that time has now come.” Then to the shock of his congregation, he flung off his ministerial robe to reveal underneath the uniform of a militia colonel.
Muhlenberg recruited other men from his church and they became known as the “German Regiment.” Muhlenberg finished the war strong and is portrayed in a painting displayed in the United States Capitol Rotunda of the surrender of the British at Yorktown.
After the war, Muhlenberg continued to serve his country. He was a member of the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives not once, but three times. He was also elected to the Senate in 1801. Peter Muhlenberg passed away in 1807 at the age of sixty-one and today his tombstone reads, “He was brave in the field, faithful in the cabinet, honorable in all his transactions, a sincere Friend and an honest man.”[i]
I know there are some Christians who would criticize Muhlenberg for leaving his pulpit for war. Some Christians even adopt pacifism—yet, God commanded Israel to fight several times in the Old Testament (Deut. 20:16-17). Moreover, at Christ’s Second Coming we see him pictured as conquering king who will vanquish His enemies by the power of his word (Rev. 19:11-21).
In a world filled with evil people, sometimes war is necessary to prevent even greater evil. If Hitler had not been defeated by World War II, how many more millions would have been killed? If the American Civil War had not been fought, how much longer would African-Americans have had to suffer as slaves? There are some things worth fighting for.
War is a terrible thing. Some wars are more “just” than others, but war is always the result of sin. At the same time, Ecclesiastes 3:8 declares, “There is a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” Christians should not desire war, but we are dual citizens of heaven and earth, which entails that we must represent Christ everywhere we are called to serve—in the church, at school, at work, on the playing field or in a foxhole. -DM
[i] Robert J. Morgan, From This Verse (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1998), “A Time to Fight,” April 16.