top of page

The Life and Death of Johann Georg Schöner

Reverend Henry Melchior Muhlenberg took joy in much of his work, like the baptisms and the confirmations and the occasional deathbed conversion. He was an prolific journalist and recorded daily events that impacted his life. One of these events is described below.

By the time he arrived in America in September 1742, one of the men responsible for him making the trip, Johann Daniel Schöner, was dead, having died almost a year earlier on 25 November 1741. Henry was aware of his trip. When he reached New Hanover, he became familiar with Johann Daniel's family, as well as the other congregants.

It is uncertain what prompted Henry to record the following in his journal in November 1751, but he devoted an entire entry to the following:

"In this same month of November a middle-aged man, named G.S. died in New Hanover through an accident which he had wantonly brought upon himself."

Church records indicate that this G.S. was Johann Georg Schöner, whose father was Johann Daniel Schöner. Johann Georg would have been about 31 years old at the time, which was obviously considered "middle-aged".

"His father was once of the men who had petitioned the superiors in Europe for help and journeyed to London with this end in view. He had been allowed to have his own way and left to misuse his freedom too early in his youth. When his father died, he was even less inclined to obey his devout mother, but rather, like the prodigal son, wasted his inheritance and the precious time of grace in idle company. His good mother never ceased to admonish him with tears and to beg him to consider his poor soul and wife and children and the things that belonged unto his peace."

As mentioned before, his father died on 25 November 1741. In 1751, Johann Georg had 4 children (Rebecca born about 1745, Johann George born 1746, Matthias born 1747, and Johann Wilhelm born 1749).

"It is true, he was not entirely lacking in frequent good resolutions and intentions, but the readiness and wont to sin weakened and choked the good intentions at the very outset and made him more and more unfit for his worldly and spiritual calling. Then after his mother departed this world, he received all of his inheritance and he opened a tavern so that he could continue his self-chosen manner of life and also more conveniently attend both to his companions and his drinking."

His mother, Maria Catharina Horn Schöner, died in 1744.

"Taverns are necessary, of course, in this country, when they are conducted in an early manner, but they are just so much the more obnoxious and reprehensible when the proprietors are godless slaves of sin. The English laws forbid drinking, dancing, playing, etc. on Sunday. Hence excesses on Sundays are not to be found here in this country as in many Christian cities and towns in Germany. But the idle, unconverted, so-called Christians must have some sort of pastime and so they indulge in their sinful frivolities so much the more on weekdays and holidays. Even in the most respectable circles, preachers, churches, and religious matters are objects of scorn and subjects for amusement in loose company."

"The more the aforesaid man became involved in sin, the more did he absent himself from the hearing of the divine Word. He sought to increase the number of his company to the detriment of our congregation. In a jeering way, he used to call me the black man or Beelzebub and had no use for my humble person. But God, who is longsuffering and merciful and who is not willing that any should perish, brought him low in a very severe illness. In this wretched circumstance his conscience began to be troubled by his blessed mother's former admonitions and tears and he became frightened by the fearful imminence of eternity. He desired that I should visit him and I did not refuse. When I came to him, he revealed to me the state of his heart and the sinful abomination of his life from his youth up. He whined like a crane and crawled like a worm, but felt, nevertheless, that the Lord would not pass him by and let him lie in his own blood. I gave him earnest instruction in the Law and the bitter sufferings of the Savior of the world on the Mount of Olives and the cross, begged him to seek cleansing for all his sins in the free and open fountain for sin and uncleanness, to look to the uplifted Christ as an Israelite wounded and poisoned by serpents, and to await sanctification. I urged him not to put his trust in works, but to believe on Him that justifieth the ungodly. I also admonished him to draw freely, from the all-sufficient fountain of grace, all the divine power which is necessary for the new life and godly conversation. He agreed to everything and promised in the presence of witnesses to follow, to the best of his ability and with God's help, the advice I had given him from God's Word."

"Later when the illness grew worse and his end seemed near, he desired the Holy Communion. True, I had many misgivings in the matter and would have preferred to wait until I saw the wholesome fruits of a change of heart. On the other hand, it is also a very serious matter to refuse Communion to a baptized person who declares with his mouth that he has experienced an inward repentance, who appears to be at the point of death, and who earnestly begs for the means of grace, especially since one cannot try the hearts and reins and we have no exact, definite, personal, and infallible precept to govern the administration of the rich treasury of grace in the new covenant. I did not cease to impress upon him the seriousness of the matter, nor did he fail to declare his repentance and to testify in a proper way to his desire for the Communion. I was, therefore, obliged to accede to his request and commit him to the mercy of God in Christ. This happened in the spring of 1751."

"Shortly afterward I left for New York and I learned later that after his recovery he had not remained faithful, but gradually allowed himself to become caught in the toils of Satan's cunning and his companions' wiles, which grieved me sorely. Shortly after my return from New York, I learned to my horror that one day, when he had slaughtered his fattened cattle and had a large kettle of boiling fat on the fire, he had gotten into a wanton scuffle with one of his sportive cronies, fallen backwards into the kettle, and was scalded from his waist to the soles of his feet. All his frivolousness passed away and for nine days he lay in anguish of soul and pain of body, suffering a foretaste of hell. He was shunned by all the neighbors who were upright and loved God's Word on account of his wanton accident and his frightful appearance, and even his worldly cronies stood afar off and shrank from the sight of his agony and torture. His nearest relatives could hardly get near him to help him on account of his screaming and the putrefaction of his burns. He really had a desire that I should come to him, but was afraid to send for me. I went to him, however, and found that total inflammation would soon bring the end. He was unable to speak more than a few words, owing to his trembling and pain, but he spoke all the more eloquently through his eyes and countenance. It was enough to break even the hardest heart, move one to compassion, and make one wish and pray for him that he might have the penitence of Manasseh, Peter's bitter flow of tears, and the penitent thief's confession. I said only a few words concerning his great abuse and contempt of God's goodness, patience, and longsuffering and concerning his unfaithfulness. I found it unnecessary to say more, for I observed that there was not only a physical inflammation of his body, but also a spiritual inflammation of his conscience. He spoke his own justly merited judgment and pleaded no righteousness of his own, nor did he make the slightest excuse to escape the fulfillment of the judgment. Rather, like a condemned criminal, he lay there between fear and the far-off hope that an undeserved letter of pardon might come from the supreme judge through intercession. He asked me whether I did not think that a crumb might fall from the Lord's table for such a dog as he. I reminded him of several apposite examples from the Old and New Testaments, prayed the penitent thief's prayer, and something from Psalm 6 and Psalm 90, but made no special personal application. Instead I humbly placed his case in the keeping of the most holy and compassionate High Priest, the Redeemer of all poor sinners, and admonished the patient to make good use of his last hour and seek absolution from Christ Himself. The relatives who were present told me on the following day that he had continued praying fervently after my departure and died during the night."


bottom of page