State of affairs at Ebenezer consequent upon the death of Mr. Bolzius—Increase of population and of ministerial labour—Transfer of trust to Mr. Rabenhorst—Harmony between the two pastors—Jerusalem church built at Ebenezer—Description of the edifice—The Swan, Luther’s coat of arms—Death of Mr. Lembke—His character as a preacher—Gottlieb Snider—Rev. C. F. Triebner sent over as successor to Mr. Lembke—His character—Marries a daughter of Mr. Lembke—Injudicious selection—Division in the church—Controversy between Messrs. Rabenhorst and Triebner—Dr. H. M. Muhlenburg arrives at Ebenezer—Object of his mission—His prudent and judicious conduct—The grounds of dispute stated—Elders prefer charges against Mr. Triebner—Origin of the difficulty—Dr. Muhlenburg’s efforts to reconcile the parties—His views of the case—Opinion of Mr. Triebner—Plan of settlement proposed—Rconciliation—Dr. Muhlenburg’s reflections—His opinion of Mr. Rabenhorst—Exculpates him from all censure—His estimation of Mr. Rabenhorst as a man and as a preacher—Dr. Muhlenburg’s labours among the Salzburgers—Saves the church property from alienation.
THE death of Mr. Bolzius devolved upon Messrs. Lembke and Rabenhorst, his successors, the entire charge of the affairs of the colony. We have already seen that, owing to the emigration from Germany, and the rapid natural increase of the population, the field of ministerial labour had become very large, and the pastoral duties necessarily arduous. Now, that one of their number had been called to his reward, these labours would be very much increased, and their cares and anxieties greatly multiplied. It has already been stated, that some time previous to his death, Mr. Bolzius had assigned to Mr. Lembke the entire charge of the mill establishments, and all the property belonging to the congregations at Ebenezer. This was done in 1757. In 1767, Mr. Lembke made a similar transfer to Mr. Rabenhorst: this latter transfer was made two years after the death of Mr. Bolzius.
These two faithful men laboured harmoniously and successfully in the discharge of their heavy civil and religious obligations, and gave entire satisfaction to those with whose interests they were intrusted. It has been found impracticable to gather much information in regard to the administration of affairs at Ebenezer during the lifetime of Mr. Lembke. The most important measure was the building of the large brick church, which still stands near the banks of the Savannah river. A view of the church may be seen on the opposite page. The materials of which this church was constructed, were prepared for the most part among the Salzburgers themselves, but the funds necessary to defray the expenses of its erection were contributed by their friends in Germany. It is stated in Mr. Muhlenburg’s journal, that the sum received for this purpose from Europe amounted to something over one thousand dollars, and Mr. Rabenhorst gave upward of one hundred and fifty dollars. The church is built of brick, eighty by sixty feet, and was originally designed for a two-story edifice. It is surmounted by a neat belfry, on the top of which is a swan, which was said to have been Luther’s coat of arms, and is frequently placed on the spire of Lutheran churches in Europe.* The edifice is a plain but substantial one, and is in every respect creditable to those who planned and erected it. But reference will be made to it again.
It has not been found practicable to ascertain how long Mr. Lembke continued his labours among the Salzburgers; nor under what circumstances he closed his career. The most general opinion is, that he departed this life a short time before the Revolutionary War. Certain it is, that he was dead in 1774, when Mr. Muhlenburg visited Ebenezer. Although there are no means of ascertaining the particulars connected with his dying moments, it is not hazarding too much to assert, that like his predecessors, his end was peaceful and triumphant. This we have a right to infer from his character. That he was an eminently pious man, is universally admitted by all who knew him. It was our privilege, in the years 1845 and 1846, to converse with a venerable father in Israel, (Mr. Gottlieb Snider,) who lived to the advanced age of more than four-score years, and who had known Mr. Lembke personally, and had often heard him preach. He bore strong testimony to the learning, piety, and zeal of Mr. Lembke, and seemed to regard him with the highest veneration. He stated, too, that this was the general estimate in which he was held by the entire congregation. No fears, then, need be entertained in reference to the end of such a man.
Upon the death of Mr. Lembke, the Rev. Christopher F. Triebner was sent over by the reverend fathers in Germany, as an adjunct to Mr. Rabenhorst. Mr. Tribner was a young man of fine talents, but very impetuous in his character, and seems to have possessed but a very small share of the humility and piety which characterized his predecessors. Shortly after his arrival he married a daughter of Mr. Lembke, who was also a niece of Mr. Bolzius. His selection as an assistant pastor at Ebenezer was attended with the most disastrous consequences to the congregation; for he succeeded in raising such turmoil and strife among the members, that Mr. Muhlenburg was sent on a special mission to Ebenezer, in 1774, to heal the difficulties which Mr. Triebner had occasioned, and, if possible, to save the congregation from ruin.
Dr. Muhlenburg arrived at Ebenezer in November, 1774, having been especially deputed by the Lutheran pastors in Europe (under whose spiritual care the Salzburgers had been placed) to investigate the grievances complained of severally by Messrs. Triebner and Rabenhorst. As was to have been expected from his wisdom and experience, Dr. Muhlenburg managed this unpleasant matter with a great deal of prudence and good judgment. His first step was to call upon the pastors personally, and after a friendly interview with them, to request that each one would furnish him with a written statement of his grievances. This was accordingly done, and each party presented a long list of complaints. It is not necessary to go fully into particulars, though the documents might be interesting, especially to the descendants of the Salzburgers. It must suffice to state, that Mr. Triebner accused Mr. Rabenhorst, among other things, 1. That Mr. Rabenhorst had appropriated to his private use certain lands and other property belonging to the church; 2. That by his mismanagement the mill establishments had greatly depreciated in value, and were nearly ruined; 3. That he had wilfully departed from the church regulations established by the fathers in Europe; 4. That Mr. Rabenhorst’s obligation for six hundred and forty-nine pounds was five years without date, and that the interest was computed sometimes at thirty pounds and again at forty pounds, whereas the Rev. Urlsperger fixed it at fifty-two pounds; 5. That Mr. Rabenhorst had assumed to himself the position and prerogatives of first pastor, and had attempted to exercise undue supremacy; 6. That Mr. Rabenhorst and his party, partly through craft and partly through violence, had obtained a majority of votes, and caused the church to be locked against Mr. Triebner and his party, &c. &c.
On the other hand, Mr. Rabenhorst complained, 1. That, shortly after the arrival of Mr. Triebner, he attempted to create distrust and dissatisfaction among the members, by accusing Mr. Rabenhorst of bad management of the schools, and of making unauthorized changes and innovations in other regulations; 2. That he had slandered the arrangement of the mill establishment, as though Mr. Rabenhorst intended it for his own use; 3. He denied that Mr. Rabenhorst had any legal call at Ebenezer; 4. He had refused to administer the Lord’s Supper to Mr. Rabenhorst; 5. Besides the charge of dishonesty, he represented Mr. Rabenhorst as a false teacher, a pretender, and destroyer of the church; 6. He abolished the fellowship of colleagues to confer and pray with one another, lest his affected superiority might not be sustained; 7. When Mr. Rabenhorst went to Ebenezer to preach, Mr. Triebner invented all kinds of mischief and ill-will, ran out of church, laughed at the preaching, and occasionally criticised the sermon, &c. &c.
Besides these complaints drawn up by Mr. Rabenhorst, the deacons likewise presented charges against Mr. Triebner in writing, which were laid before Dr. Muhlenburg in due form. The principal were, 1. Ingratitude toward Mr. Rabenhorst, who had received him as a brother, and treated him with every mark of kindness; 2. Avarice or covetousness, in trying to get control of the church funds; 3. Anger and revenge ; 4. Pride and arrogance; 5. Hatred, envy, and malevolence. There are specifications under each of these heads, but it is not necessary to state them. These charges were signed by the deacons, with this pointed remark :
“This is a faint outline of the image of our Evangelical Lutheran minister, Christopher Frederick Triebner. May God have mercy on him and each one of us !
JOHN ADAM TREUTLEN,
JACOB C. WALDHAUER.
It may be proper here to state, that one cause of the difficulty between these two ministers originated in an election which was held for church officers. Mr. Rabenhorst’s party was successful, but their right to enter upon the discharge of their duties was strongly contested, and when they took possession of the church, they had to hold it by force and defend themselves with swords, &c. The deacons claiming office under Mr. Triebner, as representatives of his party, were, Messrs. John Caspar Wertsch, John Floerl, Christopher Kramer, Matthew Biddenbach, John Paulus, and Paul Müller.
Dr. Muhlenburg, having examined all the documents, and having in vain attempted to effect a private reconciliation between the parties, consented to hold a public conference with the pastors and their respective boards of deacons, and investigate fully all the matters in dispute. The 23d day of November was appointed for this purpose. Dr. Muhlenburg makes this minute in his journal under this date: “To-day, I expected severe and heartrending labour, and found myself troubled and entirely unfitted for the work. The old and new vestry, witnesses of both contending parties, together with both the ministers, are to meet to attempt a reunion. I prayed to God secretly, but could obtain no confidence, and felt like a poor sinner who is being led forth to execution.” * * * “I had previously advised my brother Triebner how, with a few words, he might end the complicated and perplexing strife, viz. if he would say before the meeting, ‘I have erred, and ask your cordial forgiveness, and wherein you have wronged me, that I will forgive with all my heart and forget.’ For, under all the circumstances, I could impartially learn that in many things he had acted unreasonably, not according to grace, but according to our depraved nature.”
The journal of Dr. Muhlenburg contains a detailed account of the various propositions for a compromise, but it is not necessary to state the particulars. It is, perhaps, important to give Dr. Muhlenburg’s view of the case, according to the impression made upon his mind. Speaking of Mr. Tribner, he says: “He endeavoured to defend himself against the charge of avarice, and his party testified very earnestly in his behalf. In regard to the remaining counts, various instances were adduced and testimony given. He endeavoured, however, partly to justify and partly to deny, and to turn it to the best advantage for himself, and began to weep, and said, to-day was the day of his visitation; he must suffer and leave it all to the righteous Judge. I aided as much as I could, with a good conscience, and said, that in strife and enmity, faults and errors of hastiness were converted into crimes, but where love reigned, they were covered up, or endured but for a little season. But as he thought he had not erred, on the contrary had acted according to grace, conscience, and the instructions of the reverend fathers, I therefore adduced certain points wherein he had erred, and said: ‘That even a subject of grace carried within him the root or seed of all the aforesaid vices, and if he watched not, could soon be overtaken by them, and that we must avoid also the appearance of them.’ He wept again, and said: Such vices as those mentioned were mortal sins, and if they could be proved against him, he would be unworthy of his office, much less could he continue a minister if the newly-elected vestrymen remained ; he would rather remain by himself with his little flock. I told him, finally, that obedience and love had induced me to take this fatiguing journey to visit them, that, with the help of God, peace and unity might be restored. But if they were determined to continue in discord and be ruined, then my visit and experiment were ended; and to-morrow, with a sad and heavy heart, I would depart and report the result. I had hoped, by remaining over winter, that all things might yet be restored to order, but if this was the way, it was useless for me to stay. Mr. Wertsch and others said I should not adjourn yet, but try another proposition. I replied, that the following was my advice: 1. That they should bury all their former contentions and offences, and cordially forgive each other, as there were faults on all sides; 2. To open the Jerusalem church for Pastor Triebner, so that both ministers might, unitedly, perform their ministerial duties in the congregation; 3. I would endeavour, with the aid of the ministers, &c, to prepare a plan for the better conduct of the whole matter. Pastor Rabenhorst came to the rescue, and supported the proposition with a warm exhortation. I gave my hand to each one present, and said if in aught I had offended or wounded them, they should forgive me. Pastor Rabenhorst did likewise, and Pastor Treibner followed and said he would forgive his enemies, and would implore God to forgive them also ; and thus we separated. Pastor Rabenhorst and Late at Mr. Triebner’s, and at evening returned home. I was so tortured and worried in body and spirit, that I had to lie down. O Lord! how much has not the enemy of man already won, if he can effect a breach between ministers and colleagues in a church ! What hateful mischief he does to the sheep, when he has disarmed the shepherds ! How despised is the holy office and its dignity in the sight of Chamites and Canaanites, when they have seen the nakedness of the fathers, and scoff at it!”
It is gratifying to state that the judicious efforts of Dr. Muhlenburg to effect a reconciliation between these disaffected parties were happily crowned with a good measure of success, as will be seen from the above extract. But feelings of alienation grew out of these contentions, which were never fully pacified, and the bitter fruits growing out of this unfortunate rupture were seen for many years after. For it has been the sad experience of all who have ever had the misfortune to be connected, even remotely, with such schisms, that even though they may seem to be healed, the asperities of feeling which result from them are frequently only smouldered, and it requires a large measure of grace to entirely eradicate and destroy them. It is no wonder, therefore, that Dr. Muhlenburg, deeply sensible of the ruinous tendency of all such ruptures between Christians, should express himself so strongly in the latter part of the above extract from his journal.
In a subsequent part of his journal Dr. Muhlenburg states, that having examined all the church records, he was satisfied that “Mr. Rabenhorst did not acquire the ministers’ plantation through fraud and evil practices, as Mr. Triebner and evil-disposed persons had complained; but that Mr. Bolzius rejoiced that it had been sold, and that Mr. Rabenhorst took it at £649 16s. 5d., with the consent of the reverend fathers in a regular manner, and gave his obligation for it; and the fund was thereby secured.” This statement fully vindicates Mr. Rabenhorst from the most serious charge which Mr. Triebner and his associates brought against him. Further on in his journal, Dr. Muhlenburg, speaking of Mr. Rabenhorst, bears this strong testimony in his favour: “When I see with my own eyes, and hear with my own ears in intercourse, that the man possesses a heart of grace, excellent gifts to preach, and still more aptness to catechise; that he insists upon a new creature in Christ Jesus, upon radical repentance, living faith, and daily renewal; and that he adorns his sound doctrine with an edifying, sober, and godly life, &c; when I reflect on all this, I must wonder in my simplicity, what could have been the preponderating reasons which prevented our reverend fathers from appointing Rev. Rabenhorst first preacher after the death of Rev. Lembke; and even induced them to place at his side, as second preacher, a young man who, although well-meaning and gifted, was nevertheless inexperienced, passionate, and a dangerous novice; and moreover to continue Mr. Rabenhorst as third preacher! Most heartily would I have regarded myself as fortunate, if the Lord had lent us in Pennsylvania a labourer like Mr. Rabenhorst, and I would rejoice even in my last days to be the adjunct of such a man. * * Although Mr. Rabenhorst had been most grossly wronged, and had been publicly assailed in honour, office, and reputation, yet he was the first, with tears, to extend his hand to his offender, to forgive every thing, and to ask forgiveness.” Dr. Muhlenburg closes his investigation of this whole matter with these remarks: “In my humble estimation, Mr. Rabenhorst is the only man possessed of understanding and experience who, with Divine assistance, can save the Ebenezer congregations from destruction. If the reverend fathers will only appoint him first preacher, will hold Mr. Triebner tighter in hand, and honour Mr. Rabenhorst with a paternal and familiar correspondence, all may yet be well.”
Dr. Muhlenburg remained three months in Georgia, during which time he preached frequently in all the churches of the Salzburgers—Jerusalem, Bethany, Zion, and at Goshen; and extended his visits also to Savannah. His journal contains a great many interesting details, which are, however, not necessary for our purpose. This sojourn among the Salzburgers was of incalculable benefit to the whole settlement. Beside effecting an amicable adjustment of the unfortunate breach which had occurred between the pastors and their respective adherents, his quick penetration led him to perceive, that in consequence of the manner in which the lands belonging to the churches at Ebenezer had been granted, the whole property was placed at the mercy of the Church of England, to be converted to the benefit of that church, whenever occasion might present. The words of the grant were, “In trust for a glebe for St. Matthew’s Parish, for the use of the ministers of the Lutheran Church in Ebenezer.” On this point Dr. Muhlenburg remarks : “The grant to Jerusalem church as the principal or mother church in the village of Ebenezer, is so strongly arranged and secured that no help is left for it. Mr. John Wertsch managed the matter entirely alone, and suffered himself to be outwitted. He regrets it, but that does not alter the case.” This was also true in relation to the church and school-house called Bethany. The object was defined to be, “In St. Matthew’s Parish, for the use of a church and school-house, and for the support of the minister and master thereof.” Of this Dr. Muhlenburg says: “This is unwittingly cut out for the Church of England, as there is only one church, strictly so speaking, established in the British dominions.”
Dr. Muhlenburg was seriously troubled (as well he might be) when he discovered the critical position in which these grants placed the church property at Ebenezer. He, therefore, visited Savannah, and had an interview with Mr. Habersham, the President of the King’s Council, and Anthony Stokes, Esq., Chief Justice for the province, in which he represented the gross injustice and wrong which the Salzburgers were likely to suffer, unless these grants could be altered. He also drew up an able manifesto, in which he clearly set forth the just claims of the Salzburgers, and pointed out the distinctive Lutheran character of the churches which had been established at Ebenezer and its vicinity. The efforts of Dr. Muhlenburg to secure the rights of the Salzburgers were successful. The grants were accordingly altered, and the property forever secured to the Lutheran Church. For this act alone, the Salzburgers and their descendants, and in fact the whole Lutheran Church, owe Dr. Muhlenburg a lasting debt of gratitude.
* There is a tradition, that when John Huss, the Bohemian martyr, was burned by order of the Council of Constance, he remarked, “You this day burn a goose, (Huss signifying goose;) but a hundred years hence a swan will arise, whom you will not be able to burn:” in the Bohemian, Luther signifies a “swan.”