GEORGE Müller OF BRISTOL
THE closing scene of this beautiful and eventful life history has an interest not altogether pathetic. Müller seems like an elevated mountain, on whose summit the evening sun shines in lingering splendour, and whose golden peak rises far above the ordinary level and belongs to heaven more than earth, in the clear, cloudless calm of God.
From May, 1892, when the last mission tour closed, he devoted himself mainly to the work of the Scriptural Knowledge Institution, and to preaching at Bethesda and elsewhere as God seemed to appoint. His health was marvellous, especially considering how, when yet a young man, frequent and serious illnesses and general debility had apparently disqualified him from all military duty, and to many prophesied early death or hopeless succumbing to disease. He had been in tropic heat and arctic cold, in gales and typhoons at sea, and on journeys by rail, sometimes as continuously long as a sea-voyage. He had borne the pest of fleas, mosquitoes, and even rats. He had endured changes of climate, diet, habits of life, and the strain of almost daily services, and come out of all unscathed. This man, whose health was never robust, had gone through labours that would try the mettle of an iron constitution; this man, who had many times been laid aside by illness and sometimes for months and who in 1837 had feared that a persistent head trouble might unhinge his mind, could say, in his ninety-second year:
"I have been able, every day and all the day, to work, and that with ease, as seventy years since."
When the writer was holding meetings in Bristol in 1896, on an anniversary very sacred to himself, he asked his beloved father Müller to speak at the closing meeting of the series, in the Y. M. C. A. Hall; and he did so, delivering a powerful address of forty-five minutes, on Prayer in connection with Missions, and giving his own life-story in part, with a vigour of voice and manner that seemed a denial of his advanced age.*
The marvellous preservation of such a man at such an age reminds one of Caleb, who at eighty-five could boast in God that he was as strong even for war as in the day that he was sent into the land as one of the spies; and Mr. Müller himself attributed this preservation to three causes:
first, the exercising of himself to have always a conscience void of offence both toward God and toward men ;
secondly to the love he felt for the Scriptures, and the constant recuperative power they exercised upon his whole being;
and third, to that happiness he felt in God and His work, which relieved him of all anxiety and needless wear and tear in his labours.
The great fundamental truth that this heroic man stamped on his generation was that the Living God is the same to day and forever as yesterday and in all ages past, and that, with equal confidence with the most trustful souls of any age, we may believe His word, and to every promise add, like Abraham, our "Amen"-- IT SHALL BE SO!*
*Gen. xv.6. (Hebrew.)
When, a few days after his death, Mr. E. H. Glenny, who is known to many as the beloved and self-sacrificing friend of the North African Mission, passed through Barcelona, he found written in an album over his signature the words:
"Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and to-day and for ever."
And, like the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, quoting from the 102d Psalm, we may say of Jehovah, while all else changes and perishes:
"THOU ART THE SAME."
Toward the close of life Mr. Müller, acting under medical advice, abated somewhat of his active labours, preaching commonly but once a Sunday. It was my privilege to hear him on the morning of the Lord's day, March 22, 1896. He spoke on the 77th Psalm; of course he found here his favourite theme-- prayer; and, taking that as a fair specimen of his average preaching, he was certainly a remarkable expositor of Scripture even at ninety-one years of age. Later on the outline of this discourse will be found.
On Sunday morning, March 6, 1898, he spoke at Alma Road Chapel, and on the Monday evening following was at the prayer service at Bethesda, on both occasions in his usual health. On Wednesday evening following, he took his wonted place at the Orphan House prayer meeting and gave out the hymns:
"The countless multitude on high."
"We'll sing of the Shepherd that died."
When he bade his beloved son-in-law "good-night," there was outward sign of declining strength. He seemed to the last the vigorous old man, and retired to rest as usual. It had been felt that one so advanced in years should have some night-attendant, especially as indications of heart-weakness had been noticed of late, and he had yielded to the pressure of love and consented to such an arrangement after that night. But the consent came too late. He was never more to need human attendance or attention. On Thursday morning, March 10th, at about seven o'clock, the usual cup of tea was taken to his room. To the knock at the door there was no response save an ominous silence. The attendant opened the door, only to find that the venerable patriarch lay dead, on the floor beside the bed. He had probably risen to take some nourishment-- a glass of milk and a biscuit being always put within reach-- and, while eating the biscuit, he had felt faint, and fallen, clutching at the table-cloth as he fell, for it was dragged off, with certain things that had lain on the table. His medical adviser, who was promptly summoned, gave as his opinion that he had died of heart-failure some hour or two before he had been found by his attendant.
Such a departure, even at such an age, produced a world-wide sensation. That man's moral and spiritual forces reached and touched the earth's ends. Not in Bristol, or in Britain alone, but across the mighty waters toward the sunrise and sunset was felt the responsive pulse-beat of a deep sympathy. Hearts bled all over the globe when it was announced, by telegraph wire and ocean cable, that George Müller was dead. It was said of a great Englishman that his influence could be measured only by "parallels of latitude"; of George Müller we may add, and by meridians of longitude. He belonged to the whole church and the whole world, in a unique sense; and the whole race of man sustained a loss when he died.
The funeral, which took place on the Monday following, was a popular tribute of affection, such as is seldom seen. Tens of thousands of people reverently stood along the route of the simple procession; men left their workshops and offices, women left their elegant homes or humble kitchens, all seeking to pay a last token of respect. Bristol had never before witnessed any such scene.
A brief service was held at Orphan House No. 3, where over a thousand children met, who had for a second time lost a "father"; in front of the reading-desk in the great dining-room, a coffin of elm, studiously plain, and by request without floral offerings, contained all that was mortal of George Müller, and on a brass plate was a simple inscription, giving the date of his death, and his age.
Mr. James Wright gave the address, reminding those who were gathered that, to all of us, even those who have lived nearest God, death comes while the Lord tarries; that it is blessed to die in the Lord; and that for believers in Christ there is a glorious resurrection waiting. The tears that ran down those young cheeks were more eloquent than any words, as a token of affection for the dead.
The procession silently formed. Among those who followed the bier were four who had been occupants of that first orphan home in Wilson Street. The children's grief melted the hearts of spectators, and eyes unused to weeping were moistened that day. The various carriages bore the medical attendants, the relatives and connections of Mr. Müller, the elders and deacons of the churches with which he was associated, and his staff of helpers in the work on Ashley Down. Then followed forty or fifty other vehicles with deputations from various religious bodies, etc.
At Bethesda, every foot of space was crowded, and hundreds sought in vain for admission. The hymn was sung which Mr. Müller had given out at that last prayer meeting the night before his departure. Dr. Maclean of Bath offered prayer, mingled with praise for such a long life of service and witness, of prayer and faith, and Mr. Wright spoke from Hebrews xiii.7,8.
"Remember them which have the rule over you,
Who have spoken unto you the word of God:
Whose faith follow,
Considering the end of their conversation:
Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and to-day and forever."
He spoke of those spiritual rulers and guides whom God sets over his people; and of the privilege of imitating their faith, calling attention to the two characteristics of his beloved father-in-law's faith:
first, that it was based on that immovable Rock of ages, God's written word;
and secondly, that it translated the precepts and promises of that word into daily life.
Mr. Wright made very emphatic Mr. Müller's acceptance of the whole Scriptures, as divinely inspired. He had been wont to say to young believers,
"Put your finger on the passage on which your faith rests,"
and had himself read the Bible from end to end nearly two hundred times. He fed on the Word and therefore was strong. He found the centre of that Word in the living Person it enshrines, and his one ground of confidence was His atoning work. Always in his own eyes weak, wretched, and vile, unworthy of the smallest blessing, he rested solely on the merit and mediation of His great High Priest.
George Müller cultivated faith. He used to say to his helpers in prayer and service,
"Never let enter your minds a shadow of doubt as to the love of the Father's heart or the power of the Father's arm."
And he projected his whole life forward, and looked at it in the light of the Judgment Day.
Mr. Wright's address made prominent one or two other most important lessons, as, for example, that the Spirit bids us imitate, not the idiosyncrasies or philanthropy of others, but their faith. And he took occasion to remind his hearers that philanthropy was not the foremost aim or leading feature of Mr. Müller's life, but above all else to magnify and glorify God, as "still the living God who, now as well as thousands of years ago, hears the prayers of His children and helps those who trust Him." He touchingly referred to the humility that led Mr. Müller to do the mightiest thing for God without self-consciousness, and showed that God can take up and use those who are willing to be only instruments.
Mr. Wright further remarked:
"I have been asked again and again lately as to whether the orphan work would go on. It is going on. Since the commencement of the year we have received between forty and fifty fresh orphans, and this week expect to receive more. The other four objects of the institution, according to the ability God gives us, are still being carried on. We believe that whatever God would do with regard to the future will be worthy of Him. We do not know much more, and do not want to. He knows what He will do. I cannot think, however, that the God who has so blessed the work for so long will leave our prayers as to the future unanswered."
Mr. Benjamin Perry then spoke briefly, characterizing Mr. Müller as the greatest personality Bristol had known as a citizen. He referred to his power as an expounder of Scripture, and to the fact that he brought to others for their comfort and support what had first been food to his own soul. He gave some personal reminiscences, referring, for instance, to his ability at an extreme old age still to work without hindrance either mental or physical, free from rheumatism, ache, or pain, and seldom suffering from exhaustion. He briefly described him as one who, in response to the infinite love of God, which called him from a life of sin to a life of salvation and service, wholly loved God above everybody and everything, so that his highest pleasure was to please and serve Him. As an illustration of his humility, he gave an incident. When of late a friend had said,
"When God calls you home, it will be like a ship going into harbour, full sail"--
"Oh no!" said Mr. Müller, "it is poor George Müller who needs daily to pray, 'Hold Thou me up in my goings, that my footsteps slip not.'"
The close of such lives as those of Asa and Solomon were to Mr. Müller a perpetual warning, leading him to pray that he might never thus depart from the Lord in his old age.
After prayer by Mr. J. L. Stanley, Col. Molesworth gave out the hymn,
"Tis sweet to think of those at rest."
And after another prayer by Mr. Stanley Arnot, the body was borne to its resting-place in Arno's Vale Cemetery, and buried beside the bodies of Mr. Müller's first and second wives, some eighty carriages joining in the procession to the grave. Everything from first to last was as simple and unostentatious as he himself would have wished. At the graveside Col. Molesworth prayed, and Mr. George F. Bergin read from 1 Cor. xv. and spoke a few words upon the tenth verse, which so magnifies the grace of God both in what we are and what we do.
["But by the Grace of God
I am what I am:
and His Grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain;
but I laboured more abundantly than they all:
yet not I,
but the Grace of God which was with me"
(1 Corinthians 15:10). --WStS Scripture annotation.]
Mr. E. K. Groves, nephew of Mr. Müller, announced as the closing hymn the second given out by him at that last prayer meeting at the orphanage.
"We'll sing of the Shepherd that died."
Mr. E. T. Davies then offered prayer, and the body was left to its undisturbed repose, until the Lord shall come.
Other memorial services were held at the Y. M. C. A. Hall, and very naturally at Bethesda Chapel, which brought to a fitting close this series of loving tributes to the departed. On the Lord's day preceding the burial, in nearly all the city pulpits, more or less extended reference has been made to the life, the character, and the career of the beloved saint who had for so many years lived his irreproachable life in Bristol. Also the daily and weekly press teemed with obituary notices, and tributes to his piety, worth, and work.
It was touchingly remarked at his funeral that he first confessed to feeling weak and weary in his work that last night of his earthly sojourn; and it seemed specially tender of the Lord not to allow that sense of exhaustion to come upon him until just as He was about to send His chariot to bear him to His presence. Mr. Müller's last sermon at Bethesda Chapel, after a ministry of sixty-six years, had been from 2 Cor. v.1:
"For we know that,
if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved,
we have a building of God, a house not made with hands,
eternal in the heavens."
It was as though he had some foretokens of his being about shortly to put off this his tabernacle. Evidently he was not taken by surprise. He had foreseen that his days were fast completing their number. Seven months before his departure, he had remarked to his medical attendant, in connection with the irregularity of his pulse:
"It means death."
Many of the dear orphans-- as when the first Mrs. Müller died-- wrote, asking that they might contribute toward the erection of a monument to the memory of their beloved benefactor. Already one dear young servant had gathered, for the purpose, over twenty pounds. In conformity with the known wishes of his father-in-law that only the simplest headstone be placed over his remains, Mr. Wright thought necessary to check the inflow of such gifts, the sum in hand being quite sufficient.
Further urgent appeals were made both from British and American friends, for the erection of some statue or other large visible monument or memorial, and in these appeals the local newspapers united. At length private letters led Mr. Wright to communicate with the public press, as the best way at once to silence these appeals and express the ground of rejecting such proposals. He wrote as follows:
"You ask me, as one long and closely associated with the late Mr. George Müller, to say what I think would be most in accordance with his own wishes as a fitting memorial of himself. Will not the best way of replying to this question be to let him speak for himself?
"Ist. When he erected Orphan House No. 1, and the question came what is the building to be called, he deliberately avoided associating his own name with it, and named it 'The New Orphan House, Ashley Down.' N.B.-- To the end of his life he disliked hearing or reading the words 'Müller's Orphanage.' In keeping with this, for years, in every Annual Report, when referring to the Orphanage he reiterated the statement, 'The New Orphan Houses on Ashley Down, Bristol, are not my Orphan Houses,... they are God's Orphan Houses.' (See, for example, the Report for 1897, p. 69.)
"2d. For years, in fact until he was nearly eighty years old, he steadily refused to allow any portrait of himself to be published; and only most reluctantly (for reasons which he gives with characteristic minuteness in the preface to 'Preaching Tours') did he at length give way on this point.
"3d. In the last published Report, at page 66, he states:
'The primary object I had in view in carrying on this work,' viz., 'that it might be seen that now, in the nineteenth century, God is still the Living God, and that now, as well as thousands of years ago, He listens to the prayers of His children and helps those who trust in Him.'
"From these words and ways of acting, is it not evident, that the only 'memorial' that George Müller cared about was that which consists in the effect of his example, Godward, upon his fellow men? Every soul converted to God (instrumentally) through his words or example constitutes a permanent memorial to him as the father in Christ of such an one. Every believer strengthened in faith (instrumentally) through his words or example constitutes a similar memorial to his spiritual teacher.
"He knew that God had, already, in the riches of His grace, given him many such memorials; and he departed this life, as I well know, cherishing the most lively hope that he should greet above thousands more to whom it had pleased God to make him a channel of rich spiritual blessing.
"He used often to say to me, when he opened a letter in which the writer poured out a tale of sore pecuniary need, and besought his help to an extent twice or three or ten times exceeding the sum total of his (Mr. Müller's) earthly possessions at the moment,
'Ah! these dear people entirely miss the lesson I am trying to teach them, for they come to me, instead of going to God.'
"And if he could come back to us for an hour, and listen to all account of what his sincerely admiring, but mistaken, friends are proposing to do to perpetuate his memory, I can hear him, with a sigh, exclaiming,
'Ah! these dear friends are entirely missing the lesson that I tried for seventy years to teach them,' viz., 'That a man can receive nothing except it be given him from above,'
"and that, therefore, it is the Blessed Giver, and not the poor receiver, that is to be glorified.