Peter Brunholtz: A Biographical Sketch

How refreshing the thought, that we too, if we are faithful, shall meet and mingle with those who lived and served God in past ages of the church, of whom the world was not worthy; that we shall recognize those whom as Christians we loved on the earth, but whom, as glorified spirits, we shall love still more in heaven.

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Introduction: The American Lutheran Founding Fathers

“Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations, ask thy father and he will show thee, thy elders and they will tell thee”

Much has been said, and deservedly, in praise of the Pilgrim Fathers; their memory is properly cherished with veneration, and their virtues earnestly commended for imitation, yet the founders of the American Lutheran Church will not suffer, in any respect, in comparison with them. In piety and zeal they were, by no means, inferior, in education and attainment they were, in many instances, superior. They were men of acknowledged literary character, genuine piety, evangelical sentiment, and ardent attachment to the cause of the Redeemer.

Their Christian heroism, their energetic devotion to the principles they professed, their laborious and self-denying efforts for the salvation of souls and the promotion of God’s glory, made a deep impression upon all, with whom they came in contact, and secured the confidence and regard of their contemporaries among other denominations. They were men who could not be despised! They would have adorned the ministry of any church, in whose connection Providence might have placed them. Their character and their works deserve to live in the hearts of posterity. Their virtues and their services should be transmitted to future generations and distant ages. The prevalence of the German language among them in the public worship of the sanctuary, and the preservation of their annals in their native tongue, have deprived them of the position, to which their intellectual and moral qualifications give them a just claim.

Among the most able, faithful, and useful of cur earlier ministers, may be named:

Peter Brunholtz (1724(?)-1758)

who was the first clergyman sent from Halle, as an assistant to Dr. Muhlenberg, to be associated with him in ministering to the wants of the Lutheran congregation in Pennsylvania.1

Early History

He was born in Nübül, a village in the principality of Gluckburg, in the Duchy of Schleswig. He was a candidate of theology when Muhlenberg so earnestly sought for aid in his ministerial labors, and urged the immediate appointment of an associate in the important work, in which he was engaged. He was selected for this purpose by the theological faculty at Halle, with the approbation of all, who were acquainted with his qualifications, and with the state of things in Pennsylvania. He had laid a good foundation in the study of theology at the University, and had already acquired some experience and a practical acquaintance with the duties, to which he had devoted his life.

He had been employed, for some time, to minister in sacred things, on the estates of a Christian nobleman, and in this position had given proofs of his faithfulness, and his gifts in preaching and in the care of souls. When the call from the United States was tendered him, he took the subject into serious and prayerful consideration. The inquiry with him was, “Lord what wilt thou have me to do?” The divine guidance was invoked, and the wisdom which is profitable to direct, was bestowed. His convictions were clear, the path of duty was made plain. He was accordingly, after an examination, invested with the permanent office of the ministry. He was ordained April 12th, 1744, by the Consistorium at Wernigerode, in the chapel of the castle of that place. He immediately made preparations for his departure, and, with Messrs. Kurtz and Schaum, as catechets, embarked for this country at Gravesend, November 29th, 1744. After a long and stormy voyage, they reached Philadelphia in safety, January 26th, 1745.

Their arrival was hailed with great joy. A German coming from the forest, and not knowing who the strangers were, approached them as they were leaving the vessel and going into the city, and inquired whether no evangelical preachers had come to supply their spiritual wants. The answer to the interrogatory was received with unfeigned satisfaction and heartfelt pleasure. They were soon introduced to their brethren of the same faith in Philadelphia, and cordially welcomed to their field of labor. The gratifying intelligence was conveyed by a special messenger to pastor Muhlenberg, who was, at the time, serving his charge in the country. His heart rejoiced, that God had heard his prayer, and granted his request. Between him and Mr. Brunholtz the most tender and intimate friendship existed, so that the latter, when feeble, and almost unable to labor, was wont to say that “he would retire and live as an emeritus with Muhlenberg.”

Second Minister to Dr. Muhlenberg

Pastor Brunholtz was appointed second minister in the churches, in which Dr. Muhlenberg had hitherto labored alone, viz: Philadelphia, Germantown, Providence and New Hanover. For these four congregations they jointly performed service. They also proposed to visit other points, in which a prospect of usefulness was presented. The circle of pastoral activity could now be the more readily enlarged, inasmuch as valuable additions had been made to their force in Messrs. Schaum and Kurtz, both of whom assisted in the preaching, and took charge of schools, the former in Philadelphia, and the latter in New Hanover. It was a part of our earlier policy to connect the schoolmaster with the minister in all our congregations. Wherever there was a church, it was the practice of our fathers to plant a school. It was regarded as an important part of our system, to educate the children of the church in the principles of the Christian religion, as well as to furnish them with secular instruction. The beneficial results of such a course were easily apparent; the wisdom of the arrangement none can question. Happy had it been for our communion, if this custom had never been abandoned, if this feature, peculiar to our church, had not been rejected!

After the lapse of a few months, the plan adopted was somewhat modified, and Dr. Muhlenberg assumed the more laborious stations, whilst Philadelphia and Germantown were assigned to the subject of our narrative, as his more immediate charge, in consequence of his physical inability to attend to the duties connected with a residence in the country. He lived in Philadelphia, and preached on the alternate Sabbath, morning and afternoon, in Germantown. Some time after he had entered upon his duties, Dr. Muhlenberg, in a letter dated November 1st 1745, thus speaks of him:

“My dear brother takes heed unto himself, unto the doctrine and the destitute flock. The grace of God is strong in him, notwithstanding his bodily infirmities. He is able to suffer, and yet to fight, to pass through honor, as well as dishonor, through good and evil report, in reliance on that grace. The Lord grants him the favor of the people, and crowneth the word with his blessing,”

In a subsequent communication in the Hallische Nachrichten, he writes:

“Our worthy colleague, Rev. Mr. Brunholtz, has now labored the fifth year with all fidelity and patience in the congregations in Philadelphia and Germantown. He preaches not in the words of human wisdom, but with the demonstration and power of the spirit. His constant aim is the instruction and edification of his hearers. His intercourse with his people is profitable. He is most zealously devoted to their spiritual improvement. He visits the sick by day and by night, if it is necessary, although he is himself in feeble health, and of delicate constitution. He holds special meetings for prayer at his own house. He meditates, prays, and wrestles in his closet for God’s blessing upon all the congregations, and especially upon the flock committed to his care, upon the fathers of the church, and the followers of Jesus in Europe. He is much engaged in giving religious instruction to the children. He also takes an interest in the temporal affairs of the church, and sees that pecuniary matters are properly managed, yet as regards his own maintenance, he is easily satisfied. He wants merely a support, and lives from hand to mouth. If there is a surplus, he permits the poor to enjoy it. In all things he proves himself a disciple of God, and a faithful overseer of the mysteries entrusted to his keeping. His labors are not, indeed, without the evidence of the divine blessing. The preached gospel becomes unto some the savor of life unto life.”

The favorable testimony to the character and services of Mr. Brunholtz, thus furnished by one who knew him well, and who was closely associated with him in the ministry, is valuable, and is the highest endorsement of his great moral worth and usefulness. Mr. Brunholtz himself thus writes in reference to his congregations, from which some idea may be formed of his spirit, and the deep concern he manifested in the spiritual welfare of his people:2

“As regards the internal condition of my congregations, it is true, the greater number of the old and young are yet under the influence of worldly-mindedness, and in great ignorance, and need a genuine conversion. Nevertheless, there is perceptible in many, an earnest desire to be instructed out of the word of God, and in most, a reverence and devotional attention during the public worship of God; and many manifest a tender love and an abundant confidence towards us, their pastors. There are some, it is true but a few, in both of my congregations, of whom I have a well founded hope, that they have been awakened from the spiritual sleep of sin, and are found under the drawing of the Father to the Son, and who show an earnestness to save their souls; whom to conduct further and to preserve in the wholesome pasture of the word, demand much watchfulness, prayer and divine wisdom.”

In a letter written to a friend in Halle in 1752, he also uses the following language:

“I cannot say much in favor of the large body of our people. The Lord has given me a gleaning in some few, who have been influenced by the word to seek the paths of peace, and who are anxious to be prepared for the rest of God. Among our young people I have been able to labor with greater satisfaction. The instructions given them have been peculiarly blessed. Many of our youth take their Bible to church, look for the quoted passages, and give suitable answers to the questions proposed.”

In a communication in the Hallische Nachrichten, in 1775, he likewise writes:3 >“I find that my catechetical instructions, which I have from the beginning conducted in the church, (to which I have added another exclusively for children on Friday, at my residence) has excited a greater interest not only in the youth of the congregation, but also amongst others, than could be done by preaching alone, because the people are better able to understand instruction in question and answer than in a didactic discourse. These Sabbath afternoon exercises are almost as numerously attended as the services in the morning.”

In 1751 Mr. Brunholtz resigned the care of the Germantown church to Mr. Handschuh, and devoted his attention exclusively to the congregation in Philadelphia, although he frequently preached at the other stations. He continued in this charge, until the close of his life, faithfully discharging the duties of his office and universally beloved, not only by the members of his own church, but by the Christian community generally. Whilst pastor in Philadelphia, St. Michael’s church was built, the corner stone of which was laid in 1743. The edifice was completed in 1748, and consecrated the same year, during the convention of the first Evangelical Lutheran Synod held in this country.

Illness and Passing

Mr. Brunholtz’s earthly pilgrimage terminated July 7th, 1758. He had been frequently sick, and several times appeared to be on the borders of the grave. He was confined to his bed three months before his death. His sufferings were, however, endured with meekness and Christian fortitude.


> Levius fit patentia
>Quidquid corrigere est nefas.

Patience makes more tolerable
That which it is impossible to correct. – Horace

No murmur escaped his lips. God was with him in all his trials. They were sanctified to his highest good. His affections became more detached from earth, and ripened for heaven.

 “Affliction rightly used
Is mercy in disguise.”

His Passing

“Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth,“—”for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.” Although apparently very frail he was permitted to labor upwards of thirteen years in Philadelphia, at a period in our history when his services were so much needed, and to accomplish a most important work. His life, it was believed, was at different periods spared in direct answer to fervent intercession, made on his behalf at the throne of grace. His end was such as might have been expected from such a life! In his last hours he was perfectly composed, and willing to leave all with God, happy in the enjoyment of faith in the Redeemer, and simple reliance in the blood of the everlasting covenant.

“Death’s terror is the mountain faith removes;
‘Tis faith disarms destruction.”

Mr. Handschuh writes:

“July 5th, at 2 o’clock, A. M., I was called to Pastor Brunholtz. He wished to speak but could not utter a loud word. With deep sorrow I cast myself upon my knees, and prayed long and fervently. When I arose, I asked him whether he understood all? To which he nodded assent. In a few moments he sank in the embrace of death, amid my renewed and most affectionate supplication.”

A large concourse of citizens from town and country attended the funeral ceremonies; several Professors of the Academy, and the ministers of all the churches (fifteen in number) were in attendance. The corpse was interred in the church, in which he had so often delivered God’s message. Provost Parlin, of the Swedish Lutheran church, had been requested to preach the funeral sermon, but in consequence of sickness, he was unable to perform the duty. Both Dr. Muhlenberg and pastor Handschuh felt so sad in consequence of their bereavement, that they were incapacitated for the service. William Kurtz, then a student of theology, was therefore asked to prepare a parentation for the occasion, which he accordingly delivered from the words:

“Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”

After the delivery of the discourse, Dr. Muhlenberg thanked the English portion of the congregation for the respect they had shown to the dead, and re-conducted, according to custom, the funeral procession to the house of mourning.

Mr. Brunholtz died without family. He was never married. His library he bequeathed to the church, and whatever funds remained, after the settlement of his estate and the payment of some legacies, were to be applied to the erection of a room near the church for the preservation of the books. Very little, however, remained. He had been liberal during his lifetime, and expended his income in doing good, in relieving the wants of the needy, and ministering to the comfort of the suffering. He was distinguished for his large-hearted benevolence. In real kindness of nature and depth and tenderness of feeling, no man surpassed him. It was his happiness to make others happy. No object of benevolence failed to receive his support and encouragement.

His Character

Mr. Brunholtz was a man of ardent, consistent piety, and deeply concerned for the salvation of souls. There was nothing extravagant in his religious character, but modest and unassuming, with steady pace he cultivated the path of holiness. His sermons were pungent and of a practical character. They were full of instruction, and abounded with Christian experience. He seemed to have but one object in view — preaching the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. “He expounded the word,” it is said, “in a clear and simple manner, so that the most illiterate could comprehend the meaning. He adapted his discourses to the condition of the hearers, in order that they might be benefitted by the services.”

Individuals of various denominations often attended his preaching. He was not inclined to introduce polemics into the pulpit. He had no taste for controversy. He never went out of his way to attack those who differed from him in sentiment, yet he always presented the truth as it flowed from the text. He frequently cited the writings of Luther in his sermons, in confirmation of his assertions, and showed their correspondence with the word of God. But he did not think that his duties ceased with his labors in the pulpit. He was not satisfied with merely declaring the message in public on the Lord’s day, but he sought every opportunity in private, to lead souls to the Savior. He was not only glad to receive the visits of his people, and to talk to them respecting their spiritual condition, but he spent much time in pastoral visitation, going from house, and conversing with his members in reference to the interests of their souls. In this way, he also became thoroughly acquainted with their necessities, and could accommodate his preaching to the state of things that existed.

He was likewise deeply interested in the religious instruction of the children in the congregation, and to them he devoted a considerable portion of his time. This was a prominent feature in the labors of all our earlier ministers, and much is it to be regretted that this characteristic of our church is, at the present day, so sadly disregarded, or performed with so much indifference. If greater attention were bestowed upon the young in the church, and a more earnest interest shown for their recovery from sin, their attachment to the church would be stronger; if they were more thoroughly instructed in the doctrines and practices of the Christian religion, they would, perhaps, find it more difficult to wander from the fold, and in the morning of life would become zealously and faithfully engaged in their Master’s service.

Summary

Although nearly a century has elapsed since this man of God passed away from earth, his memory is still fragrant. He rests from his labors, but his works do follow him; and, we doubt not, there are multitudes of redeemed spirits, now associated with him in heaven, brought home through his instrumentality, who delight with him, as they cast their crowns at the Savior’s feet, to ascribe “blessing, and honor, and glory, and power unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.” How refreshing the thought, that we too, if we are faithful, shall meet and mingle with those who lived and served God in past ages of the church, of whom the world was not worthy; that we shall recognize those whom as Christians we loved on the earth, but whom, as glorified spirits, we shall love still more in heaven; that in company with them, we shall range over the plains of immortality, in the full radiance of the Redeemer’s glory, and together lift up our voices and sing, “Unto him that loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever.”

Reminiscences of Lutheran Ministers Series

"Among our earlier ministers, the fathers of the American Lutheran Church… we can point to many bright names, which Christians of any denomination might be proud to recognize as their own… "Men distinguished for high talent, great learning, devoted piety, ardent zeal and noble spirit, who were appreciated by their contemporaries, and labored assiduously for the elevation of the race, and the extension of the Redeemer's kingdom." – Charles Krauth

To request a printable copy [PDF] send an email to: editor@lutheranlibrary.org with the title of this post.

Lutheran Biographical Sketch

Publication Information

  • Author: “Krauth, Charles P.”, Editor.
  • Journal: “The Evangelical Review.”
  • Originally Published: 1854.
  • Lutheran Library Edition: 2019
  • Copyright: CC BY 4.0

  1. There had been Lutherans in Pennsylvania sixty years anterior to the arrival of Muhlenberg in 1742. They were scattered in different parts of the State, but they were generally without the preached word. A church had been built near Lebanon (the Bergkirche), where the Rev. John Caspar Stoever labored in 1733. There was also one at New Hanover. In Philadelphia the Lutherans worshipped with the German Reformed, in a log house on Arch street. The advent of Dr. Muhlenberg marks a new era in the history of our church in this country. From this period frequent accessions were made to the ranks of the ministry, by men educated at Halle with the highest qualifications for the work, imbued with the missionary spirit, and upon whose labors the blessing of God signally rested. ^
  2. Hallische Nachrichten, p. 82. See LutheranLibrary.org edition. ^
  3. Hallische Nachrichten, p. 305. ^

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