I was born at Kroppenstaedt in the kingdom of Prussia on September 27, 1805. My father, a tax collector, educated his children on worldly principles, and my brother and I slipped easily into many sins. Before I was ten years old, I had repeatedly stolen government money which was entrusted to my father and forced him to make up the losses.
When I was eleven years old, my father sent me to Halberstadt to be prepared to study at the university. He wanted me to become a clergyman-not that I would serve God, but that I would have a comfortable life. Studying, reading novels, and indulging in sinful practices were my favorite pastimes.
My mother died suddenly when I was fourteen years old. That night I played cards until two in the morning, and went to a tavern the next day. Her death made no lasting impression on me. Instead, I grew worse.
Three days before my confirmation and communion, I was guilty of gross immorality. The day before my confirmation, I lied to the clergyman rather than confess my sins. In this state of heart, without prayer, true repentance, faith, or knowledge of the plan of salvation, I was confirmed and took part in the Lord's Supper. Because I had some feeling about the solemnity of the occasion, I stayed home during the afternoon and evening.
That summer I spent some time studying but more in playing the piano and guitar, reading novels, frequenting taverns, making resolutions to become different, and breaking them almost as fast as I made them. I was glad when my father obtained an appointment for me at a school near Magdeburg because I thought that if. I left my sinful companions, I would live a different life. But I grew still more idle and continued to live in all sorts of sin.
In November I went on a pleasure trip where I spent six days in sin. My father discovered my absence before I returned, so I took all the money I could find and went to Brunswick. After spending a week at Brunswick in an expensive hotel, my money was gone. I then went, without money, to another hotel for a week. At last, the owner of the hotel, suspecting that I had no money, asked for payment and took my best clothes as security.
I walked about six miles to an inn and began to live as if I had plenty of money. On the third morning, I went quietly out of the yard and ran off.
By this time the innkeeper became suspicious and had me arrested. The police questioned me for about three hours and sent me to jail. At the age of - sixteen I became an inmate of a prison, dwelling with thieves and murderers.
After a year, the commissioner who had tried my case told my father of my conduct. I was kept in prison until he sent the money for my traveling expenses, my debt to the inn, and my stay in prison. My father arrived two days later, beat me severely, and took me home to Schoenebeck. Through more lying and persuading, I convinced him to allow me to enter school at Nordhausen the following autumn.
I lived in the house of the principal at Nordhausen. Through my conduct, I grew highly in his favor. He had such a high esteem for me that I was held up by him as an example to the rest of the class. But while I was outwardly gaining the esteem of my fellow men, I did not care in the least about God. As a result of my sinful lifestyle, I became ill and was confined to my room for thirteen weeks.
During my illness, I felt no real remorse and cared nothing about the Word of God. I owned more than three hundred books, but no Bible. Now and then I wanted to become a different person and tried to amend my conduct, particularly when I went to the Lord's Supper. The day before attending a communion service, I used to abstain from certain things. On the day itself, I promised God that I would become a better person, thinking that somehow God would induce me to reform. But after one or two days, I forgot everything and was as bad as before.
At age 20 I received honorable recommendations and became a member of the University of Halle. I even obtained permission to preach in the Lutheran church. But I felt as truly unhappy and far from God as ever.
I now resolved to change my lifestyle for two reasons: first, because unless I reformed, no parish would choose me as their pastor; and secondly, without a considerable knowledge of theology, I would never earn a good living. But the moment I entered Halle, all my resolutions disappeared. I resumed my loose living even though I was in the seminary. Deep in my heart, I longed to renounce this wretched life. I did not enjoy it, and I had sense enough to see that one day it would ruin me completely. Still, I felt no sorrow about offending God.
One day while in a tavern with some of my wild friends, I saw one of my former classmates named Beta. I met him four years earlier at Halberstadt; and, because he was so quiet and serious, I despised him. It now appeared wise for me to choose him as my friend, thinking that better companions would help me improve my conduct.
The Spirit of God was working in Beta's heart at Halberstadt, but Beta was a backslider. He tried to put off the ways of God and enjoy the world he had known little about before. I sought his friendship because I thought it would lead me to a moral life, and be gladly became my friend because he thought it would bring him some good times.
In August, Beta, myself, and two other students drove through the country for four days. When we returned, my love for traveling was stronger than ever, and I suggested that we set off for Switzerland. Through forged letters from our parents, we procured passports and acquired as much money as we could. We left school and traveled for forty-three days.
I had now obtained the desire of my heart - I had seen Switzerland. But I was still far from being happy. On this journey I acted like Judas. I managed the money so that the journey cost me only two thirds of what it cost my friends. By many lies, I satisfied my father's questions concerning the expenses.
During my three weeks of summer vacation, I resolved to live differently in the future, and I was different - for a few days. But when vacation was over, and new students came with fresh money, all my resolutions were soon forgotten. I easily slipped back into my old habits. Nevertheless, the God whom I dishonored by my wicked behavior and unrepentant spirit had not given up on me.
From the Autobiography of George Muller