Pastor Henry Melchoir Muhlenberg's Journal

Henry Melchoir Muhlenberg was born September 6, 1711, in Einbeck, Hanover (Hanover was an autonomous province at the time, but is now part of Germany). Henry attended Goettingen University, graduating in 1735. He was ordained as a Lutheran pastor in 1739. On his 30th birthday, he was told of three congregations in Pennsylvania who had requested pastors seven years earlier, but were still unfilled. After careful consideration, Henry accepted their pastorship.

Henry Muhlenberg arrived in Charleston, South Carolina, September 1742. From there he traveled to Pennsylvania where he took over the Pastorship of a number of churches(1). One of these congregations was the New Hanover Lutheran Church, where Friederich attended, or would soon attend.

Pastor Muhlenberg immediately started keeping formal records in his churches. He also began a personal journal where he described many of his experiences as Pastor of his congregations. Both records were written in German. In 1942 his journals were translated into English and published in a three volume set. They were indexed including the names of all people appearing in his journal. I found Muhlenberg’s journal in the Pottstown, Pennsylvania, public library (Pottstown is not far from New Hanover). Since Friederich Stembel and his family attended the New Hanover Lutheran Church while Henry Muhlenberg was Pastor, I anxiously scanned the index looking for any entry for a Stembel or Stemple, but to no avail. Though deeply disappointed, I continued browsing through the index looking for any other familiar names. Soon my eye was drawn to the name Friederich Stengel. “If only that were Friederich Stembel,” I thought. I decided to read what Muhlenberg had to say about him anyway.

I found that Muhlenberg had devoted the better part of his journal entry for the month of December 1749 to describing the events that led to Stengel’s death the previous month. I was interested to learn that Stengel, like Friederich Stembel, was a member of the New Hanover congregation. I was even more interested when I realized that Friederich Stengel died the very same month as Friederich Stembel! At that point I asked myself, what are the chances of two members of the same congregation, with almost identical names, dying the very same month? This certainly called for a more thorough investigation, so I searched the records of the New Hanover Lutheran Church. I could not find a single record for a Friederich Stengel in the church records, nor could I find a single record of a Stengel family member. I checked all possible variations of the name as well. The only similar name I found was that of our Friederich Stembel. I read Muhlenberg’s journal account again and found nothing in the journal that contradicted anything we knew about Friederich. Thus, I’m convinced that the Friederich Stengel in Muhlenberg‘s journal is actually Friederich Stembel. I believe the person who translated the journal mistakenly turned Stempel into Stengel.

Here is what Muhlenberg had to say about Friederich in his journal (this is a compilation of more than one translation):

[December 1749.]

“Concerning Fried[erich] Stengel. A man of the New Hannover congregation on various occasions showed himself to be a steadfast confessor of Evangelical doctrine and practice. He had been pretty well instructed in the fundamentals of the Evangelical religion in his youth, and he had also for several years held the office of deacon in Germany, and in Pennsylvania he held no less strongly and steadfastly to our doctrinal confessions. He neglected no opportunity to hear the Word of God in his church, and several times he declared that he could not sufficiently thank God for having prompted and moved our Reverend Fathers and many patrons to care for the poor scattered and despised Lutherans in Pennsylvania and to send shepherds, etc. On several occasions he admonished me to remain faithful and steadfast in defending our doctrine against the Zinzendorfers(2) and other hostile views. But it is quite possible that with all his confessional zeal he himself had never experienced true repentance and living faith. In my first years here he once came to me, greatly upset, saying that he had heard from several people that I was at last going to let myself be misled and become a Zinzendorfer. If I did this, he said, he would move some place where no human being would ever see him again, and never again in all his life would he ever believe or trust any clergyman. I replied that he should just be assured and faithful, and pray God to make his heart and faith just as Evangelical as his confession was, so that he might have not only the language of Luther, but also his faith and the fruits thereof, and thus be saved. As for myself, I told him not to pay any attention to the judgments of men, but rather to pray for me and believe in love that the dear God would not permit me to fall so far, but keep me faithful unto death, etc. He returned home comforted and happy. When other sects provoked him to argument and attacked his religion, he was almost too passionate. Still it served to make them desist and leave him alone. Persons who have no respect for the Evangelical religion and practice are often untiring in their desire for disputation, and when they find a person who is not well grounded in doctrine they never cease until they have entangled him and led him away from the church. On another occasion I asked him whether the Word of God which he listened to so diligently was also producing repentance and living faith in his soul. He replied that he could never repeat what he heard in the Sunday sermon immediately after the service, but during the week, at his work, in the field or wherever he was working, everything came back to him point for point so vividly that it seemed he was actually hearing it again.

“After having injured himself by taking a drink of cold water during the great heat of summer and suffering further injury to his liver through taking the violent medicines of a quack doctor, he succumbed to a long illness and could not get well. I visited him several times and I could see that Jesus Christ, the faithful Physician of the soul, was working upon his soul through his Word. He was afraid to die because he had small children who were uneducated and a sickly wife(3). When I came to him the last time and inquired rather sharply into the inner condition of his soul, he said, weeping, that he kept remembering all the sins he had committed in youth and long since forgotten. He said he had tried to banish such thoughts from his mind but he could not rid himself of them. I asked him whether, in the case of a pregnant woman who had come to the time when she should be delivered and felt the pains of labor, it would be advisable or proper for her to suppress the pains or banish them from her mind. He answered, No. So I went on and said that he should now allow himself to be likewise directed and advised. He had heard much good in his lifetime and had experienced the working of the Spirit; and all this had happened in order that there might be awakened and wrought in his heart a repentance and sorrow for all his miserable sins, a hunger and thirst for the sufficient righteousness of Jesus Christ, forgiveness of sin, peace with God, and a new life, etc. He should bow his knees in secret and, like the Prodigal Son, penitently pray for grace and forgiveness. He should smite upon his breast, like the Publican, and flee to the bleeding wounds of Jesus, and so find rest for his poor soul and die with a confident mind. We prayed together, and after the prayer I asked him how he felt. He assured me that he already felt some relief. He promised to persevere, which he did, A few days afterward he fell asleep with a joyful and confident heart, as I was told by those who were present at his death.”

[from “The Journals of Henry Melchoir Muhlenberg, In Three Volumes.” Translated by Theodore G. Tappert and John W. Doberstein. Published by The Evangelical Lutheran Ministerium of Pennsylvania and Adjacent States, and the Muhlenberg Press, Philadelphia: 1942.]


1. This brief biography of Henry Melchoir Muhlenberg comes from “Pastors and People: Vol. I, Pastors and Congregations”, by Charles H. Glatfelter. The Pennsylvania German Society. Breiningsville PA: 1980.

2. Zinzendorfers was the name applied to the followers of the Moravian religion at the time this entry was written. The Moravian religion originated in what is now Czechoslovakia, by John Huss who broke with the Roman Catholic church in 1467. The number of followers remained small until the early 18th century when Graf von Zinzendorf brought about a renewal on his estate in Saxony (in NW Germany) - hence the name Zinzendorfers. Ironically, when Henry Muhlenberg arrived in Pennsylvania, one of the three congregations he took over was being led by Count Zinzendorf while they waited for an ordained Pastor.

The Moravian religion was brought to Pennsylvania ca 1740 and became centered around the town of Bethlehem, which Moravians founded. The Moravian Church still exists today.

3. At the time of his illness we know Friederich had at least three young children living at home: Anna Maria-age 7, Christoph-age 3, and Frederick-age 11 months. Friederich’s wife was also pregnant which probably accounts for her being sickly.

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