GEORGE Müller OF BRISTOL
THE last great step of full entrance upon Mr. Müller's life-service was the founding of the orphan work, a step so important and so prominent that even the lesser particulars leading to it have a strange significance and fascination.
In the year 1835, on November 20th, in taking tea at the house of a Christian sister, he again saw a copy of Francké's life. For no little time he had thought of like labours, though on no such scale, nor in mere imitation or Francké, but under a sense of similar divine leading. This impression had grown into a conviction, and the conviction had blossomed into a resolution which now rapidly ripened into corresponding action. He was emboldened to take this forward step in sole reliance on God, by the fact that at that very time, in answer to prayer, ten pounds more had been sent him than he had asked for other existing work, as though God gave him a token of both willingness and readiness to supply all needs.
Nothing is more worthy of imitation, perhaps, than the uniformly deliberate, self-searching, and prayerful way in which he set about any work which he felt led to undertake. It was preeminently so in attempting this form of service, the future growth of which was not then even in his thought. In daily prayer he sought as in his Master's presence to sift from the pure grain of a godly purpose to glorify Him, all the chaff of selfish and carnal motives, to get rid of every taint of worldly self-seeking or lust of applause, and to bring every thought into captivity to the Lord. He constantly probed his own heart to discover the secret and subtle impulses which are unworthy of a true servant of God; and, believing that a spiritually minded brother often helps one to an insight into his own heart, he spoke often to his brother Craik about his plans, praying God to use him as a means of exposing any unworthy motive, or of suggesting any scriptural objections to his project. His honest aim being to please God, he yearned to know his own heart, and welcomed any light which revealed his real self and prevented a mistake.
Mr. Craik so decidedly encouraged him, and further prayer so confirmed previous impressions of God's guidance, that on December 2, 1835, the first formal step was taken in ordering printed bills announcing a public meeting for the week following, when the proposal to open an orphan house was to be laid before brethren, and further light to be sought unitedly as to the mind of the Lord.
Three days later, in reading the Psalms, he was struck with these nine words:
"OPEN THY MOUTH WIDE, AND I WILL FILL IT."
From that moment this text formed one of his great life-mottoes, and this promise became a power in moulding all his work. Hitherto he had not prayed for the supply of money or of helpers, but he was now led to apply this scripture confidently to this new plan, and at once boldly to ask for premises, and for one thousand pounds in money, and for suitable helpers to take charge of the children. Two days after, he received, in furtherance of his work, the first gift of money-- one shilling-- within two days more the first donation in furniture-- a large wardrobe.
The day came for the memorable public meeting-- December 9th. During the interval Satan had been busy hurling at Mr. Müller his fiery darts, and he was very low in spirit. He was taking a step not to be retraced without both much humiliation to himself and reproach to his Master: and what if it were a misstep and he were moving without real guidance from above! But as soon as he began to speak, help was given him. He was borne up on the Everlasting Arms, and had the assurance that the work was of the Lord. He cautiously avoided all appeals to the transient feelings of his hearers, and took no collection, desiring all these first steps to be calmly taken, and every matter carefully and prayerfully weighed before a decision. Excitement of emotion or kindlings of enthusiasm might obscure the vision and hinder clear apprehension of the mind of God. After the meeting there was a voluntary gift of ten shillings, and one sister offered herself for the work. The next morning a statement concerning the new orphan work was put in print, and on January 16, 1836, a supplementary statement appeared.*
*Appendix E. Narrative 1: 143-146, 148-152, 154, 155.
At every critical point Mr. Müller is entitled to explain his own views and actions; and the work he was now undertaking is so vitally linked with his whole after-life that it should here have full mention. As to his proposed orphan house he gives three chief reasons for its establishment:
1. That God may be glorified in so furnishing the means as to show that it is not a vain thing to trust in Him;
2. That the spiritual welfare of fatherless and motherless children may be promoted;
3. That their temporal good may be secured.
He had frequent reminders in his pastoral labours that the faith of those children greatly needed strengthening; and he longed to have some visible proof to point to, that the heavenly Father is the same faithful Promiser and Provider as ever, and as willing to Prove Himself the Living God to all who put their trust in Him, and that even in their old age He does not forsake those who rely only upon Him. Remembering the great blessing that had come to himself through the work of faith of Francké he judged that he was bound to serve the Church of Christ in being able to take God at His word and rely upon it.
If he, a poor man, without asking any one but God, could get means to carry on an orphan house, it would be seen that God is FAITHFUL STILL and STILL HEARS PRAYER. While the orphan work was to be a branch of the Scriptural Knowledge Institution, only those funds were to be applied thereto which should be expressly given for that purpose; and it would be carried on only so far and so fast as the Lord should provide both money and helpers.
It was proposed to receive only such children as had been bereft of both parents, and to take in such from their seventh to their twelfth year, though later on younger orphans were admitted; and to bring up the boys for a trade, and the girls for service, and to give them all a plain education likely to fit them for their life-work.
So soon as the enterprise was fairly launched, the Lord's power and will to provide began at once and increasingly to appear; and, from this point on, the journal is one long record of man's faith and supplication and of God's faithfulness and interposition. It only remains to note the new steps in advance which mark the growth of the work, and the new straits which arise and how they are met, together with such questions and perplexing crises as from time to time demand and receive a new divine solution.
A foremost need was that of able and suitable helpers, which only God could supply. In order fully to carry out his plans, Mr. Müller felt that he must have men and women like-minded, who would naturally care for the state of the orphans and of the work. If one Achan could disturb the whole camp of Israel, and one Ananias or Sapphira, the whole church of Christ, one faithless, prayerless, self-seeking assistant would prove not a helper but a hinderer both to the work itself and to all fellow-workers. No step was therefore hastily taken. He had patiently waited on God hitherto, and he now waited to receive at His hands His own chosen servants to join in this service and give to it unity of plan and spirit.
Before he called, the Lord answered. As early as December 10th a brother and sister had willingly offered themselves, and the spirit that moved them will appear in the language of their letter:
"We propose ourselves for the service of the intended orphan house, if you think us qualified for it; also to give up all the furniture, etc., which the Lord has given us, for its use; and to do this without receiving any salary whatever; believing that, if it be the will of the Lord to employ us, He will supply all our needs."
Other similar self-giving followed, proving that God's people are willing in the day of His power. He who wrought in His servant to will and to work, sent helpers to share his burdens, and to this day has met all similar needs out of His riches in glory. There has never yet been any lack of competent, cheerful, and devoted helpers, although the work so rapidly expanded and extended.
The gifts whereby the work was supported need a separate review that many lessons of interest may find a record. But it should here be noted that, among the first givers, was a poor needlewoman who brought the surprising sum of one hundred pounds, the singular self-denial and whole hearted giving exhibited making this a peculiarly sacred offering and a token of God's favour. There was a felt significance in His choice of a poor sickly seamstress as His instrument for laying the foundations for this great work. He who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will, passing by the rich, mighty, and noble somethings of this world, chose again the poor, weak, base, despised nothings, that no flesh should glory in His presence.
For work among orphans a house was needful, and for this definite prayer was offered; and April 1, 1836, was fixed as the date for opening such house for female orphans, as the most helplessly destitute. The building, No. 6 Wilson Street, where Mr. Müller had himself lived up to March 25th, having been rented for one year, was formally opened April 21st, the day being set apart for prayer and praise. The public generally were informed that the way was open to receive needy applicants, and the intimation was further made on May 18th that it was intended shortly to open a second house for infant children-- both boys and girls.
We now retrace our steps a little to take special notice of a fact in Mr. Müller's experience which, in point of time, belongs earlier.
Though he had brought before the Lord even the most minute details about his plans for the proposed orphan work and house and helpers, asking in faith for building and furnishing, money for rent and other expenses, etc., he confesses that he had never once asked the Lord to send the orphans! This seems an unaccountable omission; but the fact is he had assumed that there would be applications in abundance. His surprise and chagrin cannot easily be imagined, when the appointed time came for receiving applications, February 3rd, and not one application was made! Everything was ready except the orphans. This led to the deepest humiliation before God. All the evening of that day he literally lay on his face, probing his own heart to read his own motives, and praying God to search him and show him His mind. He was thus brought so low that from his heart he could say; that, if God would thereby be more glorified, he would rejoice in the fact that his whole scheme should come to nothing. The verynext day the first application was made for admission; on April 11th orphans began to be admitted; and by May 18th there were in the house twenty-six, and more daily expected. Several applications being made for children under seven, the conclusion was reached that, while vacancies were left, the limit of years at first fixed should not be adhered to; but every new step was taken with care and prayer, that it should not be in the energy of the flesh, or in the wisdom of man, but in the power and wisdom of the Spirit. How often we forget that solemn warning of the Holy Ghost, that even when our whole work is not imperiled by a false beginning, but is well laid upon a true foundation, we may carelessly build into it wood, hay, and stubble, which will be burned up in the fiery ordeal that is to try every man's work of what sort it is!
The first house had scarcely been opened for girls when the way for the second was made plain, suitable premises being obtained at No. 1 in the same street, and a well-fitted matron being given in answer to prayer. On November 28th, some seven months after the opening of the first, this second house was opened. Some of the older and abler girls from the first house were used for the domestic work of the second, partly to save hired help, and partly to accustom them to working for others and thus give a proper dignity to what is sometimes despised as a degrading and menial form of service. By April 8, 1837, there were in each house thirty orphan children.
The founder of this orphan work, who had at the first asked for one thousand pounds of God, tells us that, in his own mind, the thing was as good as done, so that he often gave thanks for this large sum as though already in hand. (Mark xi.24; 1 John v. 13,14.) This habit of counting a promise as fulfilled had much to do with the triumphs of his faith and the success of his labour. Now that the first part of his Narrative of the Lord's Dealings was about to issue from the press, he felt that it would much honour the Master whom he served if the entire amount should be actually in hand before the Narrative should appear, and without any one having been asked to contribute. He therefore gave himself anew to prayer; and on June 15th the whole sum was complete, no appeal having been made but to the Living God, before whom, as he records with his usual mathematical precision, he had daily brought his petition for eighteen months and ten days.
In closing this portion of his narrative he hints at a proposed further enlargement of the work in a third house for orphan boys above seven years, with accommodations for about forty. Difficulties interposed, but as usual disappeared before the power of prayer. Meanwhile the whole work of the Scriptural Knowledge Institution prospered, four day-schools having been established, with over one thousand pupils, and more than four thousand copies of the word of God having been distributed.
George Müller was careful always to consult and then to obey conviction. Hence his moral sense, by healthy exercise, more and more clearly discerned good and evil. This conscientiousness was seen in the issue of the first edition of his Narrative. When the first five hundred copies came from the publishers, he was so weighed down by misgivings that he hesitated to distribute them. Notwithstanding the spirit of prayer with which he had begun, continued, and ended the writing of it and had made every correction in the proof; notwithstanding the motive, consciously cherished throughout, that God's glory might be promoted in this record of His faithfulness, he reopened with himself the whole question whether this published Narrative might not turn the eyes of men from the great Master Workman to His human instrument. As he opened the box containing the reports, he felt strongly tempted to withhold from circulation the pamphlets it held; but from the moment when he gave out the first copy, and the step could not be retraced his scruples were silenced.
He afterward saw his doubts and misgivings to have been a temptation of Satan, and never thenceforth questioned that in writing, printing, and distributing this and the subsequent parts of the Narrative he had done the will of God. So broad and clear was the divine seal set upon it in the large blessing it brought to many and widely scattered persons that no room was left for doubt. It may be questioned whether any like journal has been as widely read and as remarkably used, both in converting sinners and in quickening saints. Proofs of this will hereafter abundantly appear.
It was in the year 1837 that Mr. Müller, then in his thirty-second year, felt with increasingly deep conviction that to his own growth in grace, godliness, and power for service two things were quite indispensable:
first, more retirement for secret communion with God, even at the apparent expense of his public work; and
second, ampler provision for the spiritual oversight of the flock of God, the total number of communicants now being near to four hundred.
The former of these convictions has an emphasis which touches every believer's life at its vital centre. George Müller was conscious of being too busy to pray as he ought.His outward action was too constant for inward reflection, and he saw that there was risk of losing peace and power, and that activity even in the most sacred sphere must not be so absorbing as to prevent holy meditation on the Word and fervent supplication. The Lord said first to Elijah, "Go, HIDE THYSELF" then, "Go, SHOW THYSELF." He who does not first hide himself in the secret place to be alone with God, is unfit to show himself in the public place to move among men. Mr. Müller afterward used to say to brethren who had "too much to do" to spend proper time with God, that four hours of work for which one hour of prayer prepares, is better than five hours of work with the praying left out; that our service to our Master is more acceptable and our mission to man more profitable, when saturated with the moisture of God's blessing-- the dew of the Spirit. Whatever is gained in quantity is lost in quality whenever one engagement follows another without leaving proper intervals for refreshment and renewal of strength by waiting on God. No man, perhaps, since John Wesley has accomplished so much even in a long life as George Müller; yet few have ever withdrawn so often or so long into the pavilion of prayer. In fact, from one point of view his life seems more given to supplication and intercession than to mere action or occupation among men.
At the same time he felt that the curacy of souls must not be neglected by reason of his absorption in either work or prayer. Both believers and inquirers needed pastoral oversight; neither himself nor his brother Craik had time enough for visiting so large a flock, many of whom were scattered over the city; and about fifty new members were added every year who had special need of teaching and care. Again, as there were two separate congregations, the number of meetings was almost doubled; and the interruptions of visitors from near and far, the burdens of correspondence, and the oversight of the Lord's work generally, consumed so much time that even with two pastors the needs of the church could not be met. At a meeting of both congregations in October these matters were frankly brought before the believers, and it was made plain that other helpers should be provided, and the two churches so united as to lessen the number of separate meetings.
In October, 1837, a building was secured for a third orphan house, for boys; but as the neighbours strongly opposed its use as a charitable institution, Mr. Müller, with meekness of spirit, at once relinquished all claim upon the premises, being mindful of the maxim of Scripture:
"As much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men."
He felt sure that the Lord would provide, and his faith was rewarded in the speedy supply of a building in the same street where the other two houses were.
Infirmity of the flesh again tried the faith and patience of Mr. Müller. For eight weeks he was kept out of the pulpit. The strange weakness in the head, from which he had suffered before and which at times seemed to threaten his reason, forced him to rest; and in November he went to Bath and Weston-super-Mare, leaving to higher Hands the work to which he was unequal.
One thing he noticed and recorded: that, even during this head trouble, prayer and Bible-reading could be borne better than anything else. He concluded that whenever undue carefulness is expended on the body, it is very hard to avoid undue carelessness as to the soul; and that it is therefore much safer comparatively to disregard the body, that one may give himself wholly to the culture of his spiritual health and the care of the Lord's work. Though some may think that in this he ran to a fanatical extreme, there is no doubt that such became more and more a law of his life. He sought to dismiss all anxiety, as a duty; and, among other anxious cares, that most subtle and seductive form of solicitude which watches every change of symptoms and rushes after some new medical man or medical remedy for all ailments real or fancied.
Mr. Müller was never actually reckless of his bodily health. His habits were temperate and wholesome, but no man could be so completely wrapped up in his Master's will and work without being correspondingly forgetful of his physical frame. There are not a few, even among God's saints, whose bodily weaknesses and distresses so engross them that their sole business seems to be to nurse the body, keep it alive and promote its comfort. As Dr. Watts would have said, this is living "at a poor dying rate."
When the year 1838 opened, the weakness and distress in the head still afflicted Mr. Müller. The symptoms were as bad as ever, and it particularly tried him that they were attended by a tendency to irritability of temper, and even by a sort of satanic feeling wholly foreign to him at other times. He was often reminded that he was by nature a child of wrath even as others, and that, as a child of God, he could stand against the wiles of the devil only by putting on the whole armour of God. The pavilion of God is the saint's place of rest; the panoply of God is his coat of mail. Grace does not at once remove or overcome all tendencies to evil, but, if not eradicated, they arecounteracted by the Spirit's wondrous working. Peter found that so long as his eye was on His Master he could walk on the water. There is always a tendency to sink, and a holy walk with God, that defies the tendency downward, is a divine art that can neither be learned nor practised except so long as we keep "looking unto Jesus": that look of faith counteracts the natural tendency to sink, so long as it holds the soul closely to Him. This man of God felt his risk, and, sore as this trial was to him, he prayed not so much for its removal as that he might be kept from any open dishonour to the name of the Lord, beseeching God that he might rather die than ever bring on Him reproach.
Mr. Müller's journal is not only a record of his outer life of consecrated labour and its expansion, but it is a mirror of his inner life and its growth. It is an encouragement to all other saints to find that this growth was, like their own, in spite of many and formidable hindrances, over which only grace could triumph. Side by side with glimpses of habitual conscientiousness and joy in God, we have revelations of times of coldness and despondency. It is a wholesome lesson in holy living that we find this man setting himself to the deliberate task of cultivating obedience and gratitude; by the culture of obedience growing in knowledge and strength, and by the culture of gratitude growing in thankfulness and love. Weakness and coldness are not hopeless states: they have their divine remedies which strengthen and warm the whole being.
Three entries, found side by side in his journal, furnish pertinent illustration and most wholesome instruction on this point. One entry records his deep thankfulness to God for the privilege of being permitted to be His instrument in providing for homeless orphans, as he watches the little girls, clad in clean warm garments, pass his window on their way to the chapel on the Lord's day morning. A second entry records his determination, with God's help, to send no more letters in parcels because he sees it to be a violation of the postal laws of the land, and because he desires, as a disciple of the Lord Jesus, to submit himself to all human laws so far as such submission does not conflict with loyalty to God. A third entry immediately follows which reveals this same man struggling against those innate tendencies to evil which compel a continual resort to the throne of grace with its sympathizing High Priest. "This morning," he writes, "I greatly dishonoured the Lord by irritability manifested towards my dear wife; and that, almost immediately after I had been on my knees before God, praising Him for having given me such a wife."
These three entries, put together, convey a lesson which is not learned from either of them alone. Here is gratitude for divine mercy, conscientious resolve at once to stop a doubtful practice, and a confession of inconsistency in his home life. All of these are typical experiences and suggest to us means of gracious growth. He who lets no mercy of God escape thankful recognition, who never hesitates at once to abandon an evil or questionable practice, and who, instead of extenuating a sin because it is comparatively small, promptly confesses and forsakes it,-- such a man will surely grow in Christlikeness.
We must exercise our spiritual senses if we are to discern things spiritual. There is a clear vision for God's goodness, and there is a dull eye that sees little to be thankful for; there is a tender conscience, and there is a moral sense that grows less and less sensitive to evil; there is an obedience to the Spirit's rebuke which leads to immediate confession and increases strength for every new conflict. Mr. Müller cultivated habits of life which made his whole nature more and more open to divine impression, and so his sense of God became more and more keen and constant.
One great result of this spiritual culture was a growing absorption in God and jealousy for His glory. As he saw divine things more clearly and felt their supreme importance, he became engrossed in the magnifying of them before men; and this is glorifying God. We cannot make God essentially any more glorious, for He is infinitely perfect; but we can help men to see what a glorious God He is, and thus come into that holy partnership with the Spirit of God whose office it is to take of the things of Christ and show them unto men, and so glorify Christ. Such fellowship in glorifying God Mr. Müller set before him: and in the light of such sanctified aspiration we may read that humble entry in which, reviewing the year 1837 with all its weight of increasing responsibility, he lifts his heart to his divine Lord and Master in these simple words:
"Lord, Thy servant is a poor man; but he has trusted in Thee and made his boast in Thee before the sons of men; therefore let him not be confounded! Let it not be said, 'All this is enthusiasm, and therefore it is come to naught.'"
One is reminded of Moses in his intercession for Israel, of Elijah in his exceeding jealousy for the Lord of hosts, and of that prayer of Jeremiah that so amazes us by its boldness:
"Do not abhor us for Thy name's sake! Do not disgrace the throne of Thy glory!"*
*Comp. Numbers xiv.13-19. 1 Kings xix.10; Jer. xiv.21.
Looking back over the growth of the work at the end of the year 1837, he puts on record the following facts and figures:
Three orphan houses were now open with eighty-one children, and nine helpers in charge of them. In the Sunday-schools there were three hundred and twenty, and in the day-school three hundred and fifty; and the Lord had furnished over three hundred and seven pounds for temporal supplies.
From this same point of view it may be well to glance back over the five years of labour in Bristol up to July, 1837. Between himself and his brother Craik uninterrupted harmony had existed from the beginning. They had been perfectly at one in their views of the truth, in their witness to the truth, and in their judgment as to all matters affecting the believers over whom the Holy Ghost had made them overseers. The children of God had been kept from heresy and schism under their joint pastoral care; and all these blessings Mr. Müller and his true yoke-fellow humbly traced to the mercy and grace of the great Shepherd and Bishop of souls. Thus far over one hundred and seventy had been converted and admitted to fellowship, making the total number of communicants three hundred and seventy, nearly equally divided between Bethesda and Gideon. The whole history of these years is lit up with the sunlight of God's smile and blessing.
GEORGE Müller OF BRISTOL
THE time was now fully come when the divine Husbandman was to glorify Himself by a product of His own husbandry in the soil of Bristol.
On February 20, 1834, George Müller was led of God to sow the seed of what ultimately developed into a great means of good, known as "The Scriptural Knowledge Institution, for Home and Abroad." As in all other steps of his life, this was the result of much prayer, meditation on the Word, searching of his own heart, and patient waiting to know the mind of God.
A brief statement of the reasons for founding such an institution, and the principles on which it was based, will be helpful at this point. Motives of conscience controlled Mr. Müller and Mr. Craik in starting a new work rather than in uniting with existing societies already established for missionary purposes, Bible and tract distribution, and for the promotion of Christian schools, as they had sought to conform personal life and church conduct wholly to the scriptural pattern, they felt that all work for God should be carefully carried on in exact accordance with His known will, in order to have His fullest blessing. Many features of the existing societies seemed to them extra-scriptural, if not decidedly anti-scriptural, and these they felt constrained to avoid.
For example, they felt that the end proposed by such organizations, namely, the conversion of the world in this dispensation, was not justified by the Word, which everywhere represents this as the age of the outgathering of the church from the world, and not the ingathering of the world into the church. To set such an end before themselves as the world's conversion would therefore not only be unwarranted by Scripture, but delusive and disappointing, disheartening God's servants by the failure to realize the result, and dishonoring to God Himself by making Him to appear unfaithful.
Again, these existing societies seemed to Mr. Müller and Mr. Craik to sustain a wrong relation to the world-- mixed up with it, instead of separate from it. Any one by paying a certain fixed sum of money might become a member or even a director, having a voice or vote in the conduct of affairs and becoming eligible to office. Unscriptural means were commonly used to raise money, such as appealing for aid to unconverted persons, asking for donations simply for money's sake and without regard to the character of the donors or the manner in which the money was obtained. The custom of seeking patronage from men of the world and asking such to preside at public meetings, and the habit of contracting debts, these and some other methods of management seemed so unscriptural and unspiritual that the founders of this new institution could not with a good conscience give them sanction. Hence they hoped that by basing their work upon thoroughly biblical principles they might secure many blessed results.
First of all, they confidently believed that the work of the Lord could be best and most successfully carried on within the landmarks and limits set up in His word; that the fact of thus carrying it on would give boldness in prayer and confidence in labour. But they also desired the work itself to be a witness to the living God, and a testimony to believers, by calling attention to the objectionable methods already in use and encouraging all God's true servants in adhering to the principles and practices which He has sanctioned.
On March 5th at a public meeting a formal announcement of the intention to found such an institution was accompanied by a full statement of its purposes and principles,* in substance as follows:
1. Every believer's duty and privilege is to help on the cause and work of Christ.
2. The patronage of the world is not to be sought after, depended upon, or countenanced.
3. Pecuniary aid, or help in managing or carrying on its affairs, is not to be asked for or sought from those who are not believers.
4. Debts are not to be contracted or allowed for any cause in the work of the Lord.
5. The standard of success is not to be a numerical or financial standard.
6. All compromise of the truth or any measures that impair testimony to God are to be avoided.
Thus the word of God was accepted as counsellor, and all dependence was on God's blessing in answer to prayer.
The objects of the institution were likewise announced as follows:
1. To establish or aid day-schools, Sunday-schools, and adult-schools, taught and conducted only by believers and on thoroughly scriptural principles.
2. To circulate the Holy Scriptures, wholly or in portions, over the widest possible territory.
3. To aid missionary efforts and assist labourers, in the Lord's vineyard anywhere, who are working upon a biblical basis and looking only to the Lord for support.
*Appendix D. Journal I. 107-113.
To project such a work, on such a scale, and at such a time, was doubly an act of faith; for not only was the work already hard enough to tax all available time and strength, but at this very time this record appears in Mr. Müller's journal: "Ye have only one shilling left." Surely no advance would have been taken, had not the eyes been turned, not on the empty purse, but on the full and exhaustless treasury of a rich and bountiful Lord!
It was plainly God's purpose that, out of such abundance of poverty, the riches of His liberality should be manifested. It pleased Him, from whom and by whom are all things, that the work should be begun when His servants were poorest and weakest, that its growth to such giant proportions might the more prove it to be a plant of His own right hand's planting, and that His word might be fulfilled in its whole history:
"I the Lord do keep it:
I will water it every moment:
Lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day."
(Isa. xxvii. 3.)
Whatever may be thought as to the need of such a new organization, or as to such scruples as moved its founders to insist even in minor matters upon the closest adherence to scripture teaching, this at least is plain, that for more than half a century it has stood upon its original foundation, and its increase and usefulness have surpassed the most enthusiastic dreams of its founders; nor have the principles first avowed ever been abandoned. With the Living God as its sole patron, and prayer as its only appeal, it has attained vast proportions, and its world-wide work has been signally owned and blessed.
On March 19th Mrs. Müller gave birth to a son, to the great joy of his parents; and, after much prayer, they gave him the name Elijah-- "My God is Jah"-- the name itself being one of George Müller's life-mottoes. Up to this time the families of Mr. Müller and Mr. Craik had dwelt under one roof, but henceforth it was thought wise that they should have separate lodgings.
When, at the close of 1834, the usual backward glance was cast over the Lord's leadings and dealings, Mr. Müller gratefully recognized the divine goodness which had thus helped him to start upon its career the work with its several departments. Looking to the Lord alone for light and help, he had laid the corner-stone of this "little institution"; and in October, after only seven months existence, it had already begun to be established. In the Sunday-school there were one hundred and twenty children; in the adult classes, forty; in the four day-schools, two hundred and nine boys and girls; four hundred and eighty-two Bibles and five hundred and twenty Testaments had been put into circulation, and fifty-seven pounds had been spent in aid of missionary operations. During these seven months the Lord had sent, in answer to prayer, over one hundred and sixty-seven pounds in money, and much blessing upon the work itself. The brothers and sisters who were in charge had likewise been given by the same prayer-hearing God, in direct response to the cry of need and the supplication of faith.
Meanwhile another object was coming into greater prominence before the mind and heart of Mr. Müller: it was the thought of making some permanent provision for fatherless and motherless children.
An orphan boy who had been in the school had been taken to the poorhouse, no longer able to attend on account of extreme poverty; and this little incident set Mr. Müller thinking and praying about orphans. Could not something be done to meet the temporal and spiritual wants of this class of very poor children? Unconsciously to himself God had set a need in his soul, and was watching and watering it. The idea of a definite orphan work had taken root within him, and, like any other living germ, it was springing up and growing, he knew not how. As yet it was only in the blade, but in time there would come the ear and the full-grown corn in the ear, the new seed of a larger harvest.
Meanwhile the church was growing. In these two and a half years over two hundred had been added, making the total membership two hundred and fifty-seven; but the enlargement of the work generally neither caused the church life to be neglected nor any one department of duty to suffer declension-- a very noticeable fact in this history.
The point to which we have now come is one of double interest and importance, as at once a point of arrival and of departure. The work of God's chosen servant may be considered as fairly if not fully inaugurated in all its main forms of service. He himself is in his thirtieth year, the age when his divine Master began to be fully manifest to the world and to go about doing good. Through the preparatory steps and stages leading up to his complete mission and ministry to the church and the world, Christ's humble disciple has likewise been brought, and his fuller career of usefulness now begins, with the various agencies in operation whereby for more than threescore years he was to show both proof and example of what God can do through one man who is willing to be simply the instrument for Him to work with. Nothing is more marked in George Müller, to the very day of his death, than this, that he so looked to God and leaned on God that he felt himself to be nothing, and God everything. He sought to be always and in all things surrendered as a passive tool to the will and hand of the Master Workman.
This point of arrival and of departure is also a point of prospect. Here, halting and looking backward, we may take in at a glance the various successive steps and stages of preparation whereby the Lord had made His servant ready for the sphere of service to which He called, and for which He fitted him. One has only, from this height, to look over the ten years that were past, to see beyond dispute or doubt the divine design that lay back of George Müller's life, and to feel an awe of the God who thus chooses and shapes, and then uses, His vessels of service.
It will be well, even if it involves some repetition, to pass in review the more important steps in the process by which the divine Potter had shaped His vessel for His purpose, educating and preparing George Müller for His work.
1. First of all, his conversion. In the most unforeseen manner and at the most unexpected time God led him to turn from the error of his way, and brought him to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
2. Next, his missionary spirit. That consuming flame was kindled within him which, when it is fanned by the Spirit and fed by the fuel of facts, inclines to unselfish service and makes one willing to go wherever, and to do whatever, the Lord will.
3. Next, his renunciation of self. In more than one instance he was enabled to give up for Christ's sake an earthly attachment that was idolatrous, because it was a hindrance to his full obedience and single-eyed loyalty to his heavenly Master.
4. Then his taking counsel of God. Early in his Christian life he formed the habit, in things great and small, of ascertaining the will of the Lord before taking action, asking guidance in every matter, through the Word and the Spirit.
5. His humble and childlike temper. The Father drew His child to Himself, imparting to him the simple mind that asks believingly and trusts confidently, and the filial spirit that submits to fatherly counsel and guidance.
6. His method of preaching. Under this same divine tuition he early learned how to preach the Word, in simple dependence on the Spirit of God, studying the Scriptures in the original and expounding them without wisdom of words.
7. His cutting loose from man. Step by step, all dependence on man or appeals to man for pecuniary support were abandoned, together with all borrowing, running into debt, stated salary, etc. His eyes were turned to God alone as the Provider.
8. His satisfaction in the Word. As knowledge of the Scriptures grew, love for the divine oracles increased, until all other books, even of a religious sort, lost their charms in comparison with God's own text-book, as explained and illumined by the divine Interpreter.
9. His thorough Bible study. Few young men have ever been led to such a systematic search into the treasures of God's truth. He read the Book of God through and through, fixing its teachings on his mind by meditation and translating them into practice.
10. His freedom from human control. He felt the need of independence of man in order to complete dependence on God, and boldly broke all fetters that hindered his liberty in preaching, in teaching, or in following the heavenly Guide and serving the heavenly Master.
11. His use of opportunity. He felt the value of souls, and he formed habits of approaching others as to matters of salvation, even in public conveyances. By a word and witness, a tract, a humble example, he sought constantly to lead some one to Christ.
12. His release front civil obligations. This was purely providential. In a strange way God set him free from all liability to military service, and left him free to pursue his heavenly calling as His soldier, without entanglement in the affairs of this life.
13. His companions in service. Two most efficient co-workers were divinely provided: first his brother Craik as like-minded with himself, and secondly, his wife, peculiarly God's gift, both of them proving great aids in working and in bearing burdens of responsibility.
14. His view of the Lord's coming. He thanked God for unveiling to him that great truth, considered by him as second to no other in its influence upon his piety and usefulness; and in the light of it he saw clearly the purpose of this gospel age, to be not to convert the world but to call out from it a believing church as Christ's bride.
15. His waiting on God for a message. For every new occasion he asked of Him a word in season; then a mode of treatment, and unction in delivery; and, in godly simplicity and sincerity, with the demonstration of the Spirit, he aimed to reach the hearers.
16. His submission to the authority of the Word. In the light of the holy oracles he reviewed all customs, however ancient, and all traditions of men, however popular, submitted all opinions and practices to the test of Scripture, and then, regardless of consequences, walked according to any new light God gave him.
17. His pattern of church life. From his first entrance upon pastoral work, he sought to lead others only by himself following the Shepherd and Bishop of Souls. He urged the assembly of believers to conform in all things to New Testament models so far as they could be clearly found in the word, and thus reform all existing abuses.
18. His stress upon voluntary offerings. While he courageously gave up all fixed salary for himself, he taught that all the work of God should be maintained by the free-will gifts of believers, and that pew-rents promote invidious distinctions among saints.
19. His surrender of all earthly possessions. Both himself and his wife literally sold all they had and gave alms, henceforth to live by the day, hoarding no money even against a time of future need, sickness, old age, or any other possible crisis of want.
20. His habit of secret prayer. He learned so to prize closet communion with God that he came to regard it as his highest duty and privilege. To him nothing could compensate for the lack or loss of that fellowship with God and meditation on His word which are the support of all spiritual life.
21. His jealousy of his testimony. In taking oversight of a congregation he took care to guard himself from all possible interference with fulness and freedom of utterance and of service. He could not brook any restraints upon his speech or action that might compromise his allegiance to the Lord or his fidelity to man.
22. His organizing of work. God led him to project a plan embracing several departments of holy activity, such as the spreading of the knowledge of the word of God everywhere, and the encouraging of world-wide evangelization and the Christian education of the young; and to guard the new Institution from all dependence on worldly patronage, methods, or appeals.
23. His sympathy with orphans. His loving heart had been drawn out toward poverty and misery everywhere, but especially in the case of destitute children bereft of both parents; and familiarity with Francké's work at Halle suggested similar work at Bristol.
24. Beside all these steps of preparation, he had been guided by the Lord from his birthplace in Prussia to London, Teignmouth, and Bristol in Britain, and thus the chosen vessel, shaped for its great use, had by the same divine Hand been borne to the very place where it was to be of such signal service in testimony to the Living God.
Surely no candid observer can survey this course of divine discipline and preparation, and remember how brief was the period of time it covers, being less than ten years, and mark the many distinct steps by which this education for a life of service was made singularly complete, without a feeling of wonder and awe. Every prominent feature, afterward to appear conspicuous in the career of this servant of God, was anticipated in the training whereby he was fitted for his work and introduced to it. We have had a vivid vision of the divine Potter sitting at His wheel, taking the clay in His hands, softening its hardness, subduing it to His own will; then gradually and skillfully shaping from it the earthen vessel; then baking it in His oven of discipline till it attained the requisite solidity and firmness, then filling it with the rich treasures of His word and Spirit, and finally setting it down where He would have it serve His special uses in conveying to others the excellency of His power!
To lose sight of this sovereign shaping Hand is to miss one of the main lessons God means to teach us by George Müller's whole career. He himself saw and felt that he was only an earthen vessel; that God had both chosen and filled him for the work he was to do; and, while this conviction made him happy in his work, it made him humble, and the older he grew the humbler he became. He felt more and more his own utter insufficiency. It grieved him that human eyes should ever turn away from the Master to the servant, and he perpetually sought to avert their gaze from himself to God alone. "For of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things, to Whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."
There are several important episodes in Mr. Müller's history which may be lightly passed by, because not so characteristic of him as that they might not have been common to many others, and therefore not constituting features so distinguishing this life from others as to make it a special lesson to believers.
For example, early in 1835 he made a visit to Germany upon a particular errand. He went to aid Mr. Groves, who had come from the East Indies to get missionary recruits, and who asked help of him, as of one knowing the language of the country, in setting the claims of India before German brethren, and pleading for its unsaved millions.
When Mr. Müller went to the alien office in London to get a passport, he found that, through ignorance, he had broken the law which required every alien semi-annually to renew his certificate of residence, under penalty of fifty pounds fine or imprisonment. He confessed to the officer his non-compliance, excusing himself only on the ground of ignorance, and trusted all consequences with God, who graciously inclined the officer to pass over his non-compliance with the law. Another hindrance which still interfered with obtaining his passport, was also removed in answer to prayer; so that at the outset he was much impressed with the Lord's sanction of his undertaking.
His sojourn abroad continued for nearly two months, during which time he was at Paris, Strasburg, Basle, Tubingen, Würtemberg, Schaffhausen, Stuttgart, Halle, Sandersleben, Aschersleben, Heimersleben, Halberstadt, and Hamburg. At Halle, calling on Dr. Tholuck after seven years of separation, he was warmly welcomed and constrained to lodge at his house. From Dr. Tholuck he heard many delightful incidents as to former fellow students who had been turned to the Lord from impious paths, or had been strengthened in their Christian faith and devotion. He also visited Francké's orphan houses, spending an evening in the very room where God's work of grace had begun in his heart, and meeting again several of the same little company of believers that in those days had prayed together.
He likewise gave everywhere faithful witness to the Lord. While at his father's house the way was opened for him to bear testimony indirectly to his father and brother. He had found that a direct approach to his father upon the subject of his soul's salvation only aroused his anger, and he therefore judged that it was wiser to refrain from a course which would only repel one whom he desired to win. An unconverted friend of his father was visiting him at this time, before whom he put the truth very frankly and fully, in the presence of both his father and brother, and thus quite as effectively gave witness to them also. But he was especially moved to pray that he might by his whole life bear witness at his home, manifesting his love for his kindred and his own joy in God, his satisfaction in Christ, and his utter indifference to all former fascinations of a worldly and sinful life, through the supreme attraction he found in Him; for this he felt sure, would have far more influence than any mere words: our walkcounts for more than our talk, always.
The effect was most happy. God so helped the son to live before the father that, just before his leaving for England, he said to him: "My son, may God help me to follow your example, and to act according to what you have said to me."
On June 22, 1835, Mr. Müller's father-in-law, Mr. Groves, died; and both of his own children were very ill, and four days later little Elijah was taken. Both parents had been singularly prepared for these bereavements, and were divinely upheld. They had felt no liberty in prayer for the child's recovery, dear as he was; and grandfather and grandson were laid in one grave. Henceforth Mr. and Mrs. Müller were to have no son, and Lydia was to remain their one and only child.
About the middle of the following month, Mr. Müller was quite disabled from work by weakness of the chest, which made necessary rest and change. The Lord tenderly provided for his need through those whose hearts He touched, leading them to offer him and his wife hospitalities in the Isle of Wight, while at the same time money was sent him which was designated for "a change of air." On his thirtieth birthday, in connection with specially refreshing communion with God, and for the first time since his illness, there was given him a spirit of believing prayer for his own recovery; and his strength so rapidly grew that by the middle of October he was back in Bristol.
It was just before this, on the ninth of the same month, that the reading of John Newton's Life stirred him up to bear a similar witness to the Lord's dealings with himself. Truly there are no little things in our life, since what seems to be trivial may be the means of bringing about results of great consequence. This is the second time that a chance reading of a book had proved a turning-point with George Müller. Francké's life stirred his heart to begin an orphan work, and Newton's life suggested the narrative of the Lord's dealings. To what is called an accident are owing, under God, those pages of his life-journal which read like new chapters in the Acts of the Apostles, and will yet be so widely read, and so largely used of God.
GEORGE Müller OF BRISTOL
If much hangs and turns upon the choice of the work we are to do and the field where we are to do it, it must not be forgotten how much also depends on the time when it is undertaken, the way in which it is performed, and the associates in the labour. In all these matters the true workman will wait for the Master's beck, glance, or signal before a step is taken.
We have come now to a new fork in the road where the path ahead begins to be more plain. The future and permanent centre of his life-work is at this point clearly indicated to God's servant by divine leading.
In March, 1832, his friend Mr. Henry Craik left Shaldon for four weeks of labour in Bristol, where Mr. Müller's strong impression was that the Lord had for Mr. Craik some more lasting sphere of work, though as yet it had not dawned upon his mind that he himself was to be a co-worker in that sphere, and to find in that very city the place of his permanent abode and the centre of his life's activities. God again led the blind by a way he knew not. The conviction, however, had grown upon him that the Lord was loosing him from Teignmouth, and, without having in view any other definite field, he felt that his ministry there was drawing to a close; and he inclined to go about again from place to place, seeking especially to bring believers to a fuller trust in God and a deeper sense of His faithfulness, and to a more thorough search into His word. His inclination to such itinerant work was strengthened by the fact that outside of Teignmouth his preaching both gave him much more enjoyment and sense of power, and drew more hearers.
On April 13th a letter from Mr. Craik, inviting Mr. Müller to join in his work at Bristol, made such an impression on his mind that he began prayerfully to consider whether it was not God's call, and whether a field more suited to his gifts was not opening to him. The following Lord's day, preaching on the Lord's coming, he referred to the effect of this blessed hope in impelling God's messenger to bear witness more widely and from place to place, and reminded the brethren that he had refused to bind himself to abide with them that he might at any moment be free to follow the divine leading elsewhere.
On April 20th Mr. Müller left for Bristol. On the journey he was dumb, having no liberty in speaking for Christ or even in giving away tracts, and this led him to reflect. He saw that the so-called "work of the Lord" had tempted him to substitute action for meditation and communion. He had neglected that "still hour" with God which supplies to spiritual life alike its breath and its bread. No lesson is more important for us to learn, yet how slow are we to learn it: that for the lack of habitual seasons set apart for devout meditation upon the word of God and for prayer, nothing else will compensate.
We are prone to think, for example, that converse with Christian brethren, and the general round of Christian activity, especially when we are much busied with preaching the Word and visits to inquiring or needy souls, make up for the loss of aloneness with God in the secret place. We hurry to a public service with but a few minutes of private prayer, allowing precious time to be absorbed in social pleasures, restrained from withdrawing from others by a false delicacy, when to excuse ourselves for needful communion with God and his word would have been perhaps the best witness possible to those whose company was holding us unduly! How often we rush from one public engagement to another without any proper interval for renewing our strength in waiting on the Lord, as though God cared more for the quantity than the quality of our service!
Here Mr. Müller had the grace to detect one of the foremost perils of a busy man in this day of insane hurry. He saw that if we are to feed others we must be fed; and that even public and united exercises of praise and prayer can never supply that food which is dealt out to the believer only in the closet-- the shut-in place with its closed door and open window, where he meets God alone. In a previous chapter reference has been made to the fact that three times in the word of God we find a divine prescription for a true prosperity. God says to Joshua,
"This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success."
Five hundred years later the inspired author of the first Psalm repeats the promise in unmistakable terms. The Spirit there says of him whose delight is in the law of the Lord and who in His law doth meditate day and night, that
"he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper."
Here the devout meditative student of the blessed book of God is likened to as evergreen tree planted beside unfailing supplies of moisture; his fruit is perennial, and so is his verdure-- and whatsoever he doeth prospers! More than a thousand years pass away, and, before the New Testament is sealed up as complete, once more the Spirit bears essentially the same blessed witness.
"Whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty and continueth" (i.e. continueth looking-meditating on what he there beholds, lest he forget the impression received through the mirror of the Word), "this man shall be blessed in his deed."
Here then we have a threefold witness to the secret of true prosperity and unmingled blessing: devout meditation and reflection upon the Scriptures, which are at once a book of law, a river of life, and a mirror of self-- fitted to convey the will of God, the life of God, and the transforming power of God. That believer makes a fatal mistake who for any cause neglects the prayerful study of the word of God. To read God's holy book, by it search one's self, and turn it into prayer and so into holy living, is the one great secret of growth in grace and godliness. The worker for God must first be a worker with God: he must have power with God and must prevail with Him in prayer, if he is to have power with men and prevail with men in preaching or in any form of witnessing and serving. At all costs let us make sure of that highest preparation for our work-- the preparation of our own souls; and for this we must take time to be one with His word and His Spirit, that we may truly meet God, and understand His will and the revelation of Himself.
If we seek the secrets of the life George Müller lived and the work he did, this is the very key to the whole mystery, and with that key any believer can unlock the doors to a prosperous growth in grace and power in service. God's word is HIS WORD-- the expression of His thought, the revealing of His mind and heart. The supreme end of life is to know God and make Him known; and how is this possible so long as we neglect the very means He has chosen for conveying to us that knowledge! Even Christ, the Living Word, is to be found enshrined in the written word. Our knowledge of Christ is dependent upon our acquaintance with the Holy Scriptures, which are the reflection of His character and glory-- the firmament across the expanse of which He moves as the Sun of righteousness.
On April 22, 1832, George Müller first stood in the pulpit of Gideon Chapel. The fact and the date are to be carefully marked as the new turning-point in a career of great usefulness. Henceforth, for almost exactly sixty-six years, Bristol is to be inseparably associated with his name. Could he have foreseen, on that Lord's day, what a work the Lord would do through him in that city; how from it as a centre his influence would radiate to the earth's ends, and how, even after his departure, he should continue to bear witness by the works which should follow him, how his heart would have swelled and burst with holy gratitude and praise,-- while in humility he shrank back in awe and wonder from a responsibility and an opportunity so vast and overwhelming!
In the afternoon of this first Sabbath he preached at Pithay Chapel a sermon conspicuously owned of God. Among others converted by it was a young man, a notorious drunkard. And, before the sun had set, Mr. Müller, who in the evening heard Mr. Craik preach, was fully persuaded that the Lord had brought him to Bristol for a purpose, and that for a while, at least, there he was to labour. Both he and his brother Craik felt, however, that Bristol was not the place to reach a clear decision, for the judgment was liable to be unduly biassed when subject to the pressure of personal urgency, and so they determined to return to their respective fields of previous labour, there to wait quietly upon the Lord for the promised wisdom from above. They left for Devonshire on the first of May; but already a brother had been led to assume the responsibility for the rent of Bethesda Chapel as a place for their joint labours, thus securing a second commodious building for public worship.
Such blessing had rested on these nine days of united testimony in Bristol that they both gathered that the Lord had assuredly called them thither. The seal of His sanction had been on all they had undertaken, and the last service at Gideon Chapel on April 29th had been so thronged that many went away for lack of room.
Mr. Müller found opportunity for the exercise of humility, for he saw that by many his brother's gifts were much preferred to his own; yet, as Mr. Craik would come to Bristol only with him as a yokefellow, God's grace enabled him to accept the humiliation of being the less popular, and comforted him with the thought that two are better than one, and that each might possibly fill up some lack in the other, and thus both together prove a greater benefit and blessing alike to sinners and to saints-- as the result showed. That same grace of God helped Mr. Müller to rise higher-- nay, let us rather say, to sink lower and, "in honor preferring one another," to rejoice rather than to be envious; and, like John the Baptist, to say within himself: "A man can receive nothing except it be given him from above." Such a humble spirit has even in this life oftentimes its recompense of reward. Marked as was the impress of Mr. Craik upon Bristol, Mr. Müller's influence was even deeper and wider. As Henry Craik died in 1866, his own work reached through a much longer period; and as he was permitted to make such extensive mission tours throughout the world, his witness was far more outreaching. The lowly-minded man who bowed down to take the lower place, consenting to be the more obscene, was by God exalted to the higher seat and greater throne of influence.
Within a few weeks the Lord's will, as to their new sphere, became so plain to both these brethren that on May 23d Mr. Müller left Teignmouth for Bristol, to be followed next day by Mr. Craik. At the believers' meeting at Gideon Chapel they stated their terms, which were acceded to: that they were to be regarded as accepting no fixed relationship to the congregation, preaching in such manner and for such a season as should seem to them according to the Lord's will; that they should not be under bondage to any rules among them; that pew-rents should be done away with; and that they should, as in Devonshire, look to the Lord to supply all temporal wants through the voluntary offering of those to whom they ministered.
Within a month Bethesda Chapel had been so engaged for a year as to risk no debt, and on July 6th services began there as at Gideon. From the very first, the Spirit set His seal on the joint work of these two brethren. Ten days after the opening service at Bethesda, an evening being set for inquirers, the throng of those seeking counsel was so great that more than four hours were consumed in ministering to individual souls, and so from time to time similar meetings were held with like encouragement.
August 13, 1832, was a memorable day. On that evening at Bethesda Chapel Mr. Müller, Mr. Craik, one other brother, and four sisters-- only seven in all-- sat down together, uniting in church fellowship "without any rules,-- desiring to act only as the Lord should be pleased to give light through His word."
This in a very short and simple entry in Mr. Müller's journal, but it has most solemn significance. It records what was to him separation to the hallowed work of building up a simple apostolic church, with no manual of guidance but the New Testament; and in fact it introduces us to the THIRD PERIOD of his life, when he entered fully upon the work to which God had set him apart. The further steps now followed in rapid succession. God having prepared the workman and gathered the material, the structure went on quietly and rapidly until the life-work was complete.
Cholera was at this time raging in Bristol. This terrible "scourge of God" first appeared about the middle of July and continued for three months, prayer-meetings being held often, and for a time daily, to plead for the removal of this visitation. Death stalked abroad, the knell of funeral-bells almost constantly sounding, and much solemnity hanging like a dark pall over the community. Of course many visits to the sick, dying, and afflicted became necessary, but it is remarkable that, among all the children of God among whom Mr. Müller and Mr. Craik laboured, but one died of this disease.
In the midst of all this gloom and sorrow of a fatal epidemic, a little daughter was born to Mr. and Mrs. Müller September 17, 1832. About her name, Lydia, sweet fragrance lingers, for she became one of God's purest saints and the beloved wife of James Wright. How little do we forecast at the time the future of a new-born babe who, like Samuel, may in God's decree be established to be a prophet of the Lord, or be set apart to some peculiar sphere of service, as in the case of another Lydia, whose heart the Lord opened and whom He called to be the nucleus of the first Christian church in Europe.
Mr. Müller's unfeigned humility, and the docility that always accompanies that unconscious grace, found exercise when the meetings with inquirers revealed the fact that his colleague's preaching was much more used of God than his own, in conviction and conversion. Their discovery led to much self-searching, and he concluded that three reasons lay back of this fact:
first, Mr. Craik was more spiritually minded than himself;
second, he was more earnest in prayer for converting power; and
third, he oftener spoke directly to the unsaved, in his public ministrations.
Such disclosures of his own comparative lack did not exhaust themselves in vain self-reproaches, but led at once to more importunate prayer, more diligent preparation for addressing the unconverted, and more frequent appeals to this class. From this time on, Mr. Müller's preaching had the seal of God upon it equally with his brothers. What a wholesome lesson to learn, that for every defect in our service there is a cause, and that the one all-sufficient remedy is the throne of grace, where in every time of need we may boldly come to God for grace and help!
It has been already noted that Mr. Müller did not satisfy himself with more prayer, but gave new diligence and study to the preparation of discourses adapted to awaken careless souls. In the supernatural as well as the natural sphere, there is a law of cause and effect. Even the Spirit of God works not without order and method; He has His chosen channels through which He pours blessing. There is no accident in the spiritual world.
"The Spirit bloweth where He listeth,"
but even the wind has its circuits. There is a kind of preaching, fitted to bring conviction and conversion, and there is another kind which is not so fitted. Even in the faithful use of truth there is room for discrimination and selection. In the armory of the word of God are many weapons, and all have their various uses and adaptations. Blessed is the workman or warrior who seeks to know what particular implement or instrument God appoints for each particular work or conflict. We are to study to keep in such communion with His word and Spirit as that we shall be true workmen that need
"not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."
(2 Tim. ii.15.)
This expression, found in Paul's second letter to Timothy, is a very peculiar one (orthotomounta ton logon tas aletheias)-- [Greek transliteration]. It seems to be nearly equivalent to the Latin phrase recte viam secare-- to cut a straight road-- and to hint that the true workman of God is like the civil engineer to whom it is given to construct a direct road to a certain point. The hearer's heart and conscience is the objective point, and the aim of the preacher should be, so to use God's truth as to reach most directly and effectively the needs of the hearer. He is to avoid all circuitous routes, all evasions, all deceptive apologies and by-ways of argument, and seek by God's help to find the shortest, straightest, quickest road to the convictions and resolutions of those to whom he speaks. And if the road-builder, before he takes any other step, first carefully surveys his territory and lays out his route, how much more should the preacher first study the needs of his hearers and the best ways of successfully dealing with them, and then with even more carefulness and prayerfulness study the adaptation of the word of God and the gospel message to meet those wants.
Early in the year 1833, letters from missionaries in Bagdad urged Messrs. Müller and Craik to join them in labours in that distant field, accompanying the invitation with drafts for two hundred pounds for costs of travel. Two weeks of prayerful inquiry as to the mind of the Lord, however, led them to a clear decision not to go-- a choice never regretted, and which is here recorded only as part of a complete biography, and as illustrating the manner in which each new call for service was weighed and decided.
We now reach another stage of Mr. Müller's entrance upon his complete life-work. In February, 1832, he had begun to read the biography of A. H. Francké, the founder of the Orphan Houses of Halle. As that life and work were undoubtedly used of God to make him a like instrument in a kindred service, and to mould even the methods of his philanthropy, a brief sketch of Francké's career may be helpful.
August H. Francké was Müller's fellow countryman. About 1696, at Halle in Prussia, he had commenced the largest enterprise for poor children then existing in the world. He trusted in God, and He whom he trusted did not fail him, but helped him throughout abundantly.
The institutions, which resembled rather a large street than a building, were erected, and in them about two thousand orphan children were housed, fed, clad, and taught. For about thirty years all went on under Francké's own eyes, until 1727, when it pleased the Master to call the servant up higher; and after his departure his like minded son-in-law became the director. Two hundred years have passed, and these Orphan Houses are still in existence, serving their noble purpose.
It is needful only to look at these facts and compare with Francké's work in Halle George Müller's monuments to a prayer-hearing God on Ashley Down, to see that in the main the latter work so far resembles the former as to be in not a few respects its counterpart. Mr. Müller began his orphan work a little more than one hundred years after Francké's death; ultimately housed, fed, clothed, and taught over two thousand orphans year by year; personally supervised the work for over sixty years-- twice as long a period as that of Francké's personal management,-- and at his decease likewise left his like minded son-in-law to be his successor as the sole director of the work. It need not be added that, beginning his enterprise like Francké in dependence on God alone, the founder of the Bristol Orphan Houses trusted from first to last only in Him.
It is very noticeable how, when God is preparing a workman for a certain definite service, He often leads him out of the beaten track into a path peculiarly His own by means of some striking biography, or by contact with some other living servant who is doing some such work, and exhibiting the spirit which must guide if there is to be a true success. Meditation on Francké's life and work naturally led this man who was hungering for a wider usefulness to think more of the poor homeless waifs about him, and to ask whether he also could not plan under God some way to provide for them; and as he was musing the fire burned.
As early as June 12, 1833, when not yet twenty-eight years old, the inward flame began to find vent in a scheme which proved the first forward step toward his orphan work. It occurred to him to gather out of the streets, at about eight o'clock each morning, the poor children, give them a bit of bread for breakfast, and then, for about an hour and a half, teach them to read or read to them the Holy Scriptures; and later on to do a like service to the adult and aged poor. He began at once to feed from thirty to forty such persons, confident that, as the number increased, the Lord's provision would increase also. Unburdening his heart to Mr. Craik, he was guided to a place which could hold hundred and fifty children and one which could be rented for ten shillings yearly; as also to an aged brother who would gladly undertake the teaching.
Unexpected obstacles, however, prevented the carrying out of this plan. The work already pressing upon Mr. Müller and Mr. Craik, the rapid increase of applicants for food, and the annoyance to neighbours of having crowds of idlers congregating in the streets and lying about in troops-- these were some of the reasons why this method was abandoned. But the central thought and aim were never lost sight of: God had planted a seed in the soil of Mr. Müller's heart, presently to spring up in the orphan work, and in the Scriptural Knowledge Institution with its many branches and far-reaching fruits.
From time to time a backward glance over the Lord's dealings encouraged his heart, as he looked forward to unknown paths and untried scenes. He records at this time-- the close of the year 1833-- that during the four years since he first began to trust in the Lord alone for temporal supplies he had suffered no want. He had received during the first year one hundred and thirty pounds, during the second one hundred and fifty-one, during the third one hundred and ninety-five, and during the last two hundred and sixty-seven-- all in free-will offerings and without ever asking any human being for a penny. He had looked alone to the Lord, yet he had not only received a supply, but an increasing supply, year by year. Yet he also noticed that at each year's close he had very little, if anything, left, and that much had through strange channels, from distances very remote, and from parties whom he had never seen. He observed also that in every case, according as the need was greater or less, the supply corresponded. He carefully records for the benefit of others that, when the calls for help were many, the Great Provider showed Himself able and willing to send help accordingly.*
*Vol. I. 105.
The ways of divine dealing which he had thus found true of the early years of his life of trust were marked and magnified in all his after-experience, and the lessons learned in these first four years prepared him for others taught in the same school of God and under the same Teacher.
Thus God had brought His servant by a way which he knew not to the very place and sphere of his life's widest and most enduring work. He had moulded and shaped His chosen vessel, and we are now to see to what purposes of world-wide usefulness that earthen vessel was to be put, and how conspicuously the excellency of the power was to be of God and not of man.
GEORGE Müller OF BRISTOL
THINGS which are sacred forbid even a careless touch. The record written by George Müller of the Lord's Dealings reads, especially in parts, almost like an inspired writing, because it is simply the tracing of divine guidance in a human life-- not this man's own working or planning, suffering or serving, but the Lord's dealings with him and workings through him.
It reminds us of that conspicuous passage in the Acts of the Apostles where, within the compass of twenty verses, God is fifteen times put boldly forward as the one Actor in all events. Paul and Barnabas rehearsed, in the ears of the church at Antioch, and afterward at Jerusalem, not what they had done for the Lord, but all that He had done with them, and how He had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles; what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them. And, in the same spirit, Peter before the council emphasizes how God had made choice of his mouth, as that whereby the Gentiles should hear the word of the Gospel and believe; how He had given them the Holy Ghost and put no difference between Jew and Gentile, purifying their hearts by faith; and how He who knew all hearts had thus borne them witness. Then James, in the same strain, refers to the way in which God had visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name; and concludes by two quotations or adaptations from the Old Testament, which fitly sum up the whole matter:
"The Lord who doeth all these things."
"Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world."
(Acts xiv. 27 to xv. 18.)
The meaning of such repeated phraseology cannot be mistaken. God is here presented as the one agent or actor, and even the most conspicuous apostles, like Paul and Peter, as only His instruments. No twenty verses in the word of God contain more emphatic and repeated lessons on man's insufficiency and nothingness, and God's all-sufficiency and almightiness. It was God that wrought upon man through man. It was He who chose Peter to be His mouthpiece, He whose key unlocked shut doors, He who visited the nations, who turned sinners into saints, who was even then taking out a people for His name, purifying hearts and bearing them witness; it was He and He alone who did all these wondrous things, and according to His knowledge and plan of what He would do, from the beginning. We are not reading so much the Acts of the Apostles as the acts of God through the apostles. Was it not this very passage in this inspired book that suggested, perhaps, the name of this journal: "The Lord's dealings with George Müller"?
At this narrative or journal, as a whole, we can only rapidly glance. In this shorter account, purposely condensed to secure a wider reading even from busy people, that narrative could not be more fully treated, for in its original form it covers about three thousand printed pages and contains close to one million words. To such as can and will read that more minute account it is accessible at a low rate,* and is strongly recommended for careful and leisurely perusal. But for the present purpose the life-story, as found in these pages, takes both a briefer and a different form.
* Five volumes at 16s. Published by Jas. Nisbet & Co., London. With subsequent Annual Reports at 3d. each.
The journal is largely composed of, condensed from, and then supplemented by, annual reports of the work, and naturally and necessarily includes, not only thousands of little details, but much inevitable repetition year by year, because each new report was likely to fall into the hands of some who had never read reports of the previous years. The desire and design of this briefer memoir is to present the salient points of the narrative, to review the whole life-story as from the great summits or outlooks found in this remarkable journal; so that, like the observer who from some high mountain-peak looks toward the different points of the compass, and thus gets a rapid, impressive, comparative, and comprehensive view of the whole landscape, the reader may, as at a glance, take in those marked features of this godly man's character and career which incite to new and advance steps in faith and holy living. Some few characteristic entries in the journal will find here a place; others, only in substance while of the bulk of them it will be sufficient to give a general survey, classifying the leading facts, and under each class giving a few representative examples and illustrations.
Looking at this narrative as a whole, certain prominent peculiarities must be carefully noted. We have here a record and revelation of seven conspicuous experiences:
1. An experience of frequent and at times prolonged financial straits.
The money in hand for personal needs, and for the needs of hundreds and thousands of orphans, and for the various branches of the work of the Scripture Knowledge Institution, was often reduced to a single pound, or even penny, and sometimes to nothing. There was therefore a necessity for constant waiting on God, looking to Him directly for all supplies. For months, if not years, together, and at several periods in the work, supplies were furnished only from month to month, week to week, day to day, hour to hour! Faith was thus kept in lively exercise and under perpetual training.
2. An experience of the unchanging faithfulness of the Father-God.
The straits were long and trying, but never was there one case of failure to receive help; never a meal-time without at least a frugal meal, never a want or a crisis unmet by divine supply and support. Mr. Müller said to the writer: "Not once, or five times, or five hundred times, but thousands of times in these threescore years, have we had in hand not enough for one more meal, either in food or in funds ; but not once has God failed us; not once have we or the orphans gone hungry or lacked any good thing." From 1838 to 1844 was a period of peculiar and prolonged straits, yet when the time of need actually came the supply was always given, though often at the last moment.
3. An experience of the working of God upon the minds, hearts, and consciences of contributors to the work.
It will amply repay one to plod, step by step, over these thousands of pages, if only to trace the hand of God touching the springs of human action all over the world in ways of His own, and at times of great need, and adjusting the amount and the exact day and hour of the supply, to the existing want. Literally from the earth's ends, men, women, and children who had never seen Mr. Müller and could have known nothing of the pressure at the time, have been led at the exact crisis of affairs to send aid in the very sum or form most needful. In countless cases, while he was on his knees asking, the answer has come in such close correspondence with the request as to shut out chance as an explanation, and compel belief in a prayer-hearing God.
4. An experience of habitual hanging upon the unseen God and nothing else.
The reports, issued annually to acquaint the public with the history and progress of the work, and give an account of stewardship to the many donors who had a right to a report-- these made no direct appeal for aid. At one time, and that of great need, Mr. Müller felt led to withhold the usual annual statement, lest some might construe the account of work already done as an appeal for aid in work yet to be done, and thus detract from the glory of the Great Provider.* The Living God alone was and is the Patron of these institutions; and not even the wisest and wealthiest, the noblest and the most influential of human beings, has ever been looked to as their dependence.
*For example, Vol. II, 102, records that the report given is for 1846-1848, no report having been issued for 1847; and on page 113, under date of May 25th, occur these words: "not being nearly enough to meet the housekeeping expenses," etc.; and, May 28th and 30th, such other words as these: "now our poverty," "in this our great need," "in these days of straitness." Mr. Wright thinks that on that very account Mr. Müller did not publish the report for 1847.
5. An experience of conscientious care in accepting and using gifts.
Here is a pattern for all who act as stewards for God. Whenever there was any ground of misgiving as to the propriety or expediency of receiving what was offered, it was declined, however pressing the need, unless or until all such objectionable features no more existed. If the party contributing was known to dishonour lawful debts, so that the money was righteously due to others; if the gift was encumbered and embarrassed by restrictions that hindered its free use for God; if it was designated for endowment purposes or as a provision for Mr. Müller's old age, or for the future of the institutions; or if there was any evidence or suspicion that the donation was given grudgingly, reluctantly, or for self-glory, it was promptly declined and returned. In some cases, even where large amounts were involved, parties were urged to wait until more prayer and deliberation made clear that they were acting under divine leading.
6. An experience of extreme caution lest there should be even a careless betrayal of the fact of pressing need, to the outside public.
The helpers in the institutions were allowed to come into such close fellowship and to have such knowledge of the exact state of the work as aids not only in common labours, but in common prayers and self-denials. Without such acquaintance they could not serve, pray, nor sacrifice intelligently. But these associates were most solemnly and repeatedly charged never to reveal to those without, not even in the most serious crises, any want whatsoever of the work. The one and only resort was ever to be the God who hears the cry of the needy; and the greater the exigency, the greater the caution lest there should even seem to be a looking away from divine to human help.
7. An experience of growing boldness of faith in asking and trusting for great things.
As faith was exercised it was energized, so that it became as easy and natural to ask confidently for a hundred, a thousand, or ten thousand pounds, as once it had been for a pound or a penny. After confidence in God had been strengthened through discipline, and God had been proven faithful, it required no moreventure to cast himself on God for provision for two thousand children and an annual outlay of at least twenty-five thousand pounds for them than in the earlier periods of the work to look to Him to care for twenty homeless orphans at a cost of two hundred and fifty pounds a year. Only by using faith are we kept from practically losing it, and, on the contrary, to use faith is to lose the unbelief that hinders God's mighty acts.
This brief résumé of the contents of thousands of entries is the result of a repeated and careful examination of page after page where have been patiently recorded with scrupulous and punctilious erectness the innumerable details of Mr. Müller's long experience as a co-worker with God. He felt himself not only the steward of a celestial Master, but the trustee of human gifts, and hence he sought to "provide things honest in the sight of all men." He might never have published a report or spread these minute matters before the public eye, and yet have been an equally faithful steward toward God; but he would not in such case have been an equally faithful trustee toward man.
Frequently, in these days, men receive considerable sums of money from various sources for benevolent work, and yet give no account of such trusteeship. However honest such parties may be, they not only act unwisely, but, by their course, lend sanction to others with whom such irresponsible action is a cloak for systematic fraud. Mr. Müller's whole career is the more without fault because in this respect his administration of his great trust challenges the closest investigation.
The brief review of the lessons taught in his journal may well startle the incredulous and unbelieving spirit of our skeptical day. Those who doubt the power of prayer to bring down actual blessing, or who confound faith in God with credulity and superstition, may well wonder and perhaps stumble at such an array of facts. But, if any reader is still doubtful as to the facts, or thinks they are here arrayed in a deceptive garb or invested with an imaginative halo, he is hereby invited to examine for himself the singularly minute records which George Müller has been led of God to put before the world in a printed form which thus admits no change, and to accompany with a bold and repeated challenge to any one so inclined, to subject every statement to the severest scrutiny, and prove, if possible, one item to be in any respect false, exaggerated, or misleading. The absence of all enthusiasm in the calm and mathematical precision of the narrative compels the reader to feel that the writer was almost mechanically exact in the record, and inspires confidence that it contains the absolute, naked truth.
One caution should, like Habakkuk's gospel message-- "The just shall live by his faith"-- be written large and plain so that even a cursory glance may take it in. Let no one ascribe to George Müller such a miraculous gift of faith as lifted him above common believers and out of the reach of the temptations and infirmities to which all fallible souls are exposed. He was constantly liable to satanic assaults, and we find him making frequent confession of the same sins as others, and even of unbelief, and at times overwhelmed with genuine sorrow for his departures from God. In fact he felt himself rather more than usually wicked by nature, and utterly helpless even as a believer: was it not this poverty of spirit and mourning over sin, this consciousness of entire unworthiness and dependence, that so drove him to the throne of grace and the all-merciful and all-powerful Father? Because he was so weak, he leaned hard on the strong arm of Him whose strength is not only manifested, but can only be made perfect, in weakness.*
*1 Cor. xii.1-10.
To those who think that no man can wield such power in prayer or live such a life of faith who is not an exception to common mortal frailties, it will be helpful to find in this very journal that is so lighted up with the records of God's goodness, the dark shadows of conscious sin and guilt. Even in the midst of abounding mercies and interpositions he suffered from temptations to distrust and disobedience, and sometimes had to mourn their power over him, as when once he found himself inwardly complaining of the cold leg of mutton which formed the staple of his Sunday dinner!
We discover as we read that we are communing with a man who was not only of like passions with ourselves, but who felt himself rather more than most others subject to the sway of evil, and needing therefore a special keeping power. Scarce had he started upon his new path of entire dependence on God, when he confessed himself "so sinful" as for some time to entertain the thought that "it would be of no use to trust in the Lord in this way," and fearing that he had perhaps gone already too far in this direction in having committed himself to such a course.* True, this temptation was speedily overcome and Satan confounded; but from time to time similar fiery darts were hurled at him which had to be quenched by the same shield of faith. Never, to the last hour of life, could he trust himself, or for one moment relax his hold on God, and neglect the word of God and prayer, without falling into sin. The "old man" of sin always continued too strong for George Müller alone, and the longer he lived a "life of trust" the less was his trust placed upon himself.
Another fact that grows more conspicuous with the perusal of every new page in his journal is that in things common and small, as well as uncommon and great, he took no step without first asking counsel of the oracles of God and seeking guidance from Him in believing prayer. It was his life-motto to learn the will of God before undertaking anything, and to wait till it is clear, because only so can one either be blessed in his own soul or prospered in the work of his hands.* Many disciples who are comparatively bold to seek God's help in great crises, fail to come to Him with like boldness in matters that seem too trivial to occupy the thought of God or invite the interposition of Him who numbers the very hairs of our heads and suffers not one hair to perish. The writer of this journal escaped this great snare and carried even the smallest matter to the Lord.
Again, in his journal he constantly seeks to save from reproach the good name of Him whom he serves: he cannot have such a God accounted a hard Master. So early as July, 1831, a false rumour found circulation that he and his wife were half-starving and that certain bodily ailments were the result of a lack of the necessities of life; and he is constrained to put on record that, though often brought so low as not to have one penny left and to have the last bread on the table, they had never yet sat down to a meal unprovided with some nourishing food. This witness was repeated from time to time, and until just before his departure for the Father's house on high; and it may therefore be accepted as covering that whole life of faith which reached over nearly threescore years and ten.
A kindred word of testimony, first given at this same time and in like manner reiterated from point to point in his pilgrimage, concerns the Lord's faithfulness in accompanying His word with power, in accordance with that positive and unequivocal promise in Isaiah lv.11:
"My word shall not return unto Me void; but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it."
It is very noticeable that this is not said of man's word, however wise, important, or sincere, but of God's word. We are therefore justified in both expecting and claiming that, just so far as our message is not of human invention or authority, but is God's message through us, it shall never fail to accomplish His pleasure and its divine errand, whatever be its apparent failure at the time. Mr. Müller, referring to his own preaching, bears witness that in almost if not quite every place where he spoke God's word, whether in larger chapels or smaller rooms, the Lord gave the seal of His own testimony. He observed, however, that blessing did not so obviously or abundantly follow his open-air services: only in one instance had it come to his knowledge that there were marked results, and that was in the case of an army officer who came to make sport. Mr. Müller thought that it might please the Lord not to let him see the real fruit of his work in open-air meetings, or that there had not been concerning them enough believing prayer; but he concluded that such manner of preaching was not his present work, since God had not so conspicuously sealed it with blessing.
His journal makes very frequent reference to the physical weakness and disability from which he suffered. The struggle against bodily infirmity was almost life-long, and adds a new lesson to his life-story. The strength of faith had to triumph over the weakness of the flesh. We often find him suffering from bodily ills, and sometimes so seriously as to be incapacitated for labour.
For example, early in 1832 he broke a blood-vessel in the stomach and lost much blood by the hemorrhage. The very day following was the Lord's day, and four outside preaching stations needed to be provided for, from which his disablement would withdraw one labourer to take his place at home. After an hour of prayer he felt that faith was given him to rise, dress, and go to the chapel; and, though very weak, so that the short walk wearied him, he was helped to preach as usual. After the service a medical friend remonstrated against his course as tending to permanent injury; but he replied that he should himself have regarded it presumptuous had not the Lord given him the faith. He preached both afternoon and evening, growing stronger rather than weaker with each effort, and suffering from no reaction afterward.
In reading Mr. Müller's biography and the record of such experiences, it is not probable that all will agree as to the wisdom of his course in every case. Some will commend, while others will, perhaps, condemn. He himself qualifies this entry in his journal with a wholesome caution that no reader should in such a matter follow his example, who has not faith given him; but assuring him that if God does give faith so to undertake for Him, such trust will prove like good coin and be honoured when presented. He himself did not always pursue a like course, because he had not always a like faith, and this leads him in his journal to draw a valuable distinction between the gift of faith and the grace of faith, which deserves careful consideration.
He observed that repeatedly he prayed with the sick till they were restored, he asking unconditionally for the blessing of bodily health, a thing which, he says, later on, he could not have done. Almost always in such cases the petition was granted, yet in some instances not. Once, in his own case, as early as 1829, he had been healed of a bodily infirmity of long standing, and which never returned. Yet this same man of God subsequently suffered from disease which was not in like manner healed, and in more than one case submitted to a costly operation at the hands of a skillful surgeon.
Some will doubtless say that even this man of faith lacked the faith necessary for the healing of his own body; but we must let him speak for himself, and especially as he gives his own view of the gift and the grace of faith. He says that the gift of faith is exercised, whenever we "do or believe a thing where the not doing or not believing would not be sin"; but the grace of faith, "where we do or believe what not to do or believe would be sin"; in one case we have no unequivocal command or promise to guide us, and in the other we have. The gift of faith is not always in exercise, but the grace must be, since it has the definite word of God to rest on, and the absence or even weakness of faith in such circumstances implies sin. There were instances, he adds, in which it pleased the Lord at times to bestow upon him something like the gift of faith so that he could ask unconditionally and expect confidently.
This journal we may now dismiss as a whole, having thus looked at the general features which characterize its many pages. But let it be repeated that to any reader who will for himself carefully examine its contents its perusal will prove a means of grace. To read a little at a time, and follow it with reflection and self-examination, will be found most stimulating to faith, though often most humiliating by reason of the conscious contrast suggested by the reader's unbelief and unfaithfulness. This man lived peculiarly with God and in God, and his senses were exercised to discern good and evil. His conscience became increasingly sensitive and his judgment singularly discriminating, so that he detected fallacies where they escape the common eye, and foresaw dangers which, like hidden rocks ahead, risk danger and, perhaps, destruction to service if not to character. And, therefore, so far is the writer of this memoir from desiring to displace that journal, that he rather seeks to incite many who have not read it to examine it for themselves. It will to such be found to mark a path of close daily walk with God, where, step by step, with circumspect vigilance, conduct and even motive are watched and weighed in God's own balances.
To sum up very briefly the impression made by the close perusal of this whole narrative with the supplementary annual reports, it is simply this: CONFIDENCE IN GOD.
In a little sketch of Beaté Paulus, the Frau Pastorin pleads with God in a great crisis not to forsake her, quaintly adding that she was "willing to be the second whom He might forsake," but she was "determined not to be the first."* George Müller believed that, in all ages, there had never yet been one true and trusting believer to whom God had proven false or faithless, and he was perfectly sure that He could be safely trusted who, "if we believe not, yet abideth faithful: He cannot deny Himself." † God has not only spoken, but sworn; His word is confirmed by His oath: because He could swear by no greater He sware by Himself. And all this that we might have a strong consolation; that we might have boldness in venturing upon Him, laying hold and holding fast His promise. Unbelief makes God a liar and, worse still, a perjurer, for it accounts Him as not only false to His word, but to His oath. George Müller believed, and because he believed, prayed; and praying, expected; and expecting, received. Blessed is he that believes, for there shall be a performance of those things which are spoken of the Lord.
* Faith's Miracles, p. 48.
† 2 Timothy ii.13.
GEORGE Müller OF BRISTOL
No work for God surpasses in dignity and responsibility the Christian ministry. It is at once the consummate flower of the divine planting, the priceless dower of His church, and through it works the power of God for salvation.
Though George Müller had begun his "candidacy for holy orders" as an unconverted man, seeking simply a human calling with a hope of a lucrative living, he had heard God's summons to a divine vocation, and he was from time to time preaching the Gospel, but not in any settled field.
While at Teignmouth, early in 1830, preaching by invitation, he was asked to take the place of the minister who was about to leave, but he replied that he felt at that time called of God, not to a stationary charge, but rather to a sort of itinerant evangelism. During this time he preached at Shaldon for Henry Craik, thus coming into closer contact with this brother, to whom his heart became knit in bonds of love and sympathy which grew stronger as the acquaintance became more intimate.
Certain hearers at Teignmouth, and among them some preachers, disliked his sermons, albeit they were owned of God; and this caused him to reflect upon the probable causes of this opposition, and whether it was any indication of his duty. He felt that they doubtless looked for outward graces of oratory in a preacher, and hence were not attracted to a foreigner whose speech had no rhetorical charms and who could not even use English with fluency. But he felt sure of a deeper cause for their dislike, especially as he was compelled to notice that, the summer previous, when he himself was less spiritually minded and had less insight into the truth, the same parties who now opposed him were pleased with him. His final conclusion was that the Lord meant to work through him at Teignmouth, but that Satan was acting, as usual, the part of a hinderer, and stirring up brethren themselves to oppose the truth. And as, notwithstanding the opposers, the wish that he should minister at the chapel was expressed so often and by so many, he determined to remain for a time until he was openly rejected as God's witness, or had some clear divine leading to another field of labour.
He announced this purpose, at the same time plainly stating that, should they withhold salary, it would not affect his decision, inasmuch as he did not preach as s hireling of man, but as the servant of God, and would willingly commit to Him the provision for his temporal needs. At the same time, however, he reminded them that it was alike their duty and privilege to minister in carnal things to those who served them in things spiritual, and that while he did not desire a gift, he did desire fruit that might abound to their account.
These experiences at Teignmouth were typical: "Some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not;" some left the chapel, while others stayed; and some were led and fed, while others maintained a cold indifference, if they did not exhibit an open hostility. But the Lord stood by him and strengthened him, setting His seal upon his testimony; and Jehovah Jireh also moved two brethren, unasked, to supply all the daily wants of His servant. After a while the little church of eighteen members unanimously called the young preacher to the pastorate, and he consented to abide with them for a season, without abandoning his original intention of going from place to place as the Lord might lead. A stipend, of fifty-five pounds annually, was offered him, which somewhat increased as the church membership grew; and so the university student of Halle was settled in his first pulpit and pastorate.
While at Sidmouth, preaching, in April, 1830, three believing sisters held in his presence a conversation about "believers' baptism," which proved the suggestion of another important step in his life, which has a wider bearing than at first is apparent.
They naturally asked his opinion on the subject about which they were talking, and he replied that, having been baptized as a child, he saw no need of being baptized again. Being further asked if he had ever yet prayerfully searched the word of God as to its testimony in this matter, he frankly confessed that he had not.
At once, with unmistakable plainness of speech and with rare fidelity, one of these sisters in Christ promptly said: "I entreat you, then, never again to speak any more about it till you have done so."
Such a reply George Müller was not the man either to resent or to resist. He was too honest and conscientious to dismiss without due reflection any challenge to search the oracles of God for their witness upon any given question. Moreover, if, at that very time, his preaching was emphatic in any direction, it was in the boldness with which he insisted that all pulpit teaching and Christian practice must be subjected to one great test, namely, the touch-stone of the Word of God. Already an Elijah in spirit, his great aim was to repair the broken-down altar of the Lord to expose and rebuke all that hindered a thoroughly scriptural worship and service, and, if possible, to restore apostolic simplicity of doctrine and life.
As he thought and prayed about this matter, he was forced to admit to himself that he had never yet earnestly examined the Scriptures for their teaching as to the position and relation of baptism in the believer's life, nor had he even prayed for light upon it. He had nevertheless repeatedly spoken against believers' baptism, and so he saw it to be possible that he might himself have been opposing the teaching of the Word. He therefore determined to study the subject until he should reach a final, satisfactory, and scriptural conclusion; and thenceforth, whether led to defend infant baptism or believers' baptism, to do it only on scriptural grounds.
The mode of study which he followed was characteristically simple, thorough, and business-like, and was always pursued afterward. He first sought from God the Spirit's teaching that his eyes might be opened to the Word's witness, and his mind illumined; then he set about a systematic examination of the New Testament from beginning to end. So far as possible he sought absolutely to rid himself of all bias of previous opinion or practice, prepossession or prejudice; he prayed and endeavoured to be free from the influence of human tradition, popular custom, and churchly sanction, or that more subtle hindrance, personal pride in his own consistency. He was humble enough to be willing to retract any erroneous teaching and renounce any false position, and to espouse that wise maxim: "Don't be consistent, but simply be true."
Whatever may have been the case with others who claim to have examined the same question for themselves, the result in his case was that he came to the conclusion, and, as he believed, from the word of God and the Spirit of God, that none but believers are the proper subjects of baptism, and that only immersion is its proper mode. Two passages of Scripture were very marked in the prominence which they had in compelling him to these conclusions, namely: Acts viii. 36-38, and Romans vi. 3-5. The case of the Ethiopian eunuch strongly convinced him that baptism is proper, only as the act of a believer confessing Christ; and the passage in the Epistle to the Romans equally satisfied him that only immersion in water can express the typical burial with Christ and resurrection with Him, there and elsewhere made so prominent. He intended no assault upon brethren who hold other views, when he thus plainly stated in his journal the honest and unavoidable convictions to which he came; but he was too loyal both to the word of God and to his own conscience to withhold his views when so carefully and prayerfully arrived at through the searching of the Scriptures.
Conviction compelled action, for in him there was no spirit of compromise; and he was accordingly promptly baptized. Years after, in reviewing his course, he records the solemn conviction that "of all revealed truths, not one is more clearly revealed in the Scriptures-- not even the doctrine of justification by faith-- and that the subject has only become obscured by men not having been willing to take the Scriptures alone to decide the point."
He also bears witness incidentally that not one true friend in the Lord had ever turned his back upon him in consequence of his baptism, as he supposed some would have done; and that almost all such friends had, since then, been themselves baptized. It is true that in one way he suffered some pecuniary loss through this step taken in obedience to conviction, but the Lord did not suffer him to be ultimately the loser even in this respect, for He bountifully made up to him any such sacrifice, even in things that pertain to this life. He concludes this review of his course by adding that through his example many others were led both to examine the question of baptism anew and to submit themselves to the ordinance.
Such experiences as these suggest the honest question whether there is not imperative need of subjecting all current religious customs and practices to the one test of conformity to the scripture pattern. Our Lord sharply rebuked the Pharisees of His day for making "the commandment of God of none effect by their tradition," and, after giving one instance, He added, "and many other such like things do ye."*
*Matthew xv. 6, Mark vii 8.
It is very easy for doctrines and practices to gain acceptance, which are the outgrowth of ecclesiasticism, and neither have sanction in the word of God, nor will bear the searching light of its testimony. Cyprian has forewarned us that even antiquity is not authority, but may be only vetustas erroris-- the old age of error. What radical reforms would be made in modern worship, teaching and practice,-- in the whole conduct of disciples and the administration of the church of God if the one final criterion of all judgment were:
"What do the Scriptures teach?"
And what revolutions in our own lives as believers might take place, if we should first put every notion of truth and custom of life to this one test of scripture authority, and then with the courage of conviction dare to do according to that word-- counting no cost, but studying to show ourselves approved of God! Is it possible that there are any modern disciples who "reject the commandment of God that they may keep their own tradition"?
This step, taken by Mr. Müller as to baptism, was only a precursor of many others, all of which, as he believed, were according to that Word which, as the lamp to the believer's feet, is to throw light upon his path.
During this same summer of 1830 the further study of the Word satisfied him that, though there is no direct command so to do, the scriptural and apostolic practice was tobreak bread every Lord's day. (Acts xx 7, etc.) Also, that the Spirit of God should have unhindered liberty to work through any believer according to the gifts He had bestowed, seemed to him plainly taught in Romans xii.; 1 Cor. xii.; Ephes. iv., etc. These conclusions likewise this servant of God sought to translate at once into conduct, and such conformity brought increasing spiritual prosperity.
Conscientious misgivings, about the same time, ripened into settled convictions that he could no longer, upon the same principle of obedience to the word of God, consent to receive any stated salary as a minister of Christ. For this latter position, which so influenced his life, he assigns the following grounds, which are here stated as showing the basis of his life-long attitude:
1. A stated salary implies a fixed sum, which cannot well be paid without a fixed income through pew-rentals or some like source of revenue. This seemed plainly at war with the teaching of the Spirit of God in James ii. 1-6, since the poor brother cannot afford as good sittings as the rich, thus introducing into church assemblies invidious distinctions and respect of persons, and so encouraging the caste spirit.
2. A fixed pew-rental may at times become, even to the willing disciple, a burden. He who would gladly contribute to a pastor's support, if allowed to do so according to his ability and at his own convenience, might be oppressed by the demand to pay a stated sum at a stated time. Circumstances so change that one who has the same cheerful mind as before may be unable to give as formerly, and thus be subjected to painful embarrassment and humiliation if constrained to give a fixed sum.
3. The whole system tends to the bondage of the servant of Christ. One must be unusually faithful and intrepid if he feels no temptation to keep back or in some degree modify his message in order to please men, when he remembers that the very parties, most open to rebuke and most liable to offence, are perhaps the main contributors toward his salary.
Whatever others may think of such reasons as these, they were so satisfactory to his mind that he frankly and promptly announced them to his brethren; and thus, as early as the autumn of 1830, when just completing his twenty-fifth year, he took a position from which he never retreated, that he would thenceforth receive no fixed salary for any service rendered to God's people. While calmly assigning scriptural grounds for such a position he, on the same grounds, urged voluntary offerings, whether of money or other means of support, as the proper acknowledgment of service rendered by God's minister, and as a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God. A little later, seeing that, when such voluntary gifts came direct from the givers personally, there was a danger that some might feel self-complacent over the Iargeness of the amount given by them, and others equally humbled by the smallness of their offerings, with consequent damage to both classes of givers he took a step further: he had a box put up in the chapel, over which was written, that whoever had a desire to do something for his support might put such an offering therein as ability and disposition might direct. His intention was, that thus the act might be wholly as in God's sight, without the risk of a sinful pride or false humility.
He further felt that, to be entirely consistent, he should ask no help from man, even in bearing necessary costs of travel in the Lord's service, nor even state his needs beforehand in such a way as indirectly to appeal for aid. It's of these methods he conceived to be forms of trusting in an arm of flesh, going to man for help instead of going at once, always and only, to the Lord. And he adds: "To come to this conclusion before God required more grace than to give up my salary."
These successive steps are here recorded explicitly and in their exact order because they lead up directly to the ultimate goal of his life-work and witness. Such decisions were vital links connecting this remarkable man and his "Father's business," upon which he was soon more fully to enter; and they were all necessary to the fulness of the world-wide witness which he was to bear to a prayer-hearing God and the absolute safety of trusting in Him and in Him alone.
On October 7, 1830, George Müller, in finding a wife, found a good thing and obtained new favour from the Lord. Miss Mary Groves, sister of the self-denying dentist whose surrender of all things for the mission field had so impressed him years before, was married to this man of God, and for forty blessed years proved an help meet for him. It was almost, if not quite, an ideal union, for which he continually thanked God; and, although her kingdom was one which came not "with observation," the sceptre of her influence was far wider in its sway than will ever be appreciated by those who were strangers to her personal and domestic life. She was a rare woman and her price was above rubies. The heart of her husband safely trusted in her, and the great family of orphans who were to her as children rise up even to this day to call her blessed.
Married life has often its period of estrangement, even when, temporary alienation yields to a deeper love, as the parties become more truly wedded by the assimilation of their inmost being to one another. But to Mr. and Mrs. Müller there never came many such experiences of even temporary alienation. From the first, love grew, and with it, mutual confidence and trust. One of the earliest ties which bound these two in one was the bond of a common self-denial. Yielding literal obedience to Luke xii.33, they sold what little they had and gave alms, henceforth laying up no treasures on earth (Matthew vi. 19-34; xix. 21.) The step then taken-- accepting, for Christ's sake, voluntary poverty-- was never regretted, but rather increasingly rejoiced in; how faithfully it was followed in the same path of continued self-sacrifice will sufficiently appear when it is remembered that, nearly sixty-eight years afterward, George Müller passed suddenly into the life beyond, a poor man; his will, when admitted to probate, showing his entire personal property, under oath, to be but one hundred and sixty pounds! And even that would not have been in his possession had there been no daily need of requisite comforts for the body and of tools for his work. Part of this amount was in money, shortly before received and not yet laid out for his Master, but held at His disposal. Nothing, even to the clothes he wore, did he treat as his own. He was a consistent steward.
This final farewell to all earthly possessions, in 1830, left this newly married husband and wife to look only to the Lord. Thenceforth they were to put to ample daily test both their faith in the Great Provider and the faithfulness of the Great Promiser. It may not be improper here to anticipate, what is yet to be more fully recorded, that, from day to day and hour to hour, during more than threescore years, George Müller was enabled to set to his seal that God is true. If few men have ever been permitted so to trace in the smallest matters God's care over His children, it is partly because few have so completely abandoned themselves to that care. He dared to trust Him, with whom the hairs of our head are all numbered, and who touchingly reminds us that He cares for what has been quaintly called "the odd sparrow." Matthew records (x. 29)how two sparrows are sold for a farthing, and Luke (xii. 6) how five are sold for two farthings; and so it would appear that, when two farthings were offered, an odd sparrow was thrown in, as of so little value that it could be given away with the other four. And yet even for that one sparrow, not worth taking into account in the bargain, God cares. Not one of them is forgotten before God, or falls to the ground without Him. With what force then comes the assurance:
"Fear ye not therefore; ye are of more value than many sparrows"!
So George Müller found it to be. He was permitted henceforth to know as never before, and as few others have ever learned, how truly God may be approached as "Thou that hearest prayer." God can keep His trusting children not only from falling but from stumbling; for, during all those after-years that spanned the lifetime of two generations, there was no drawing back. Those precious promises, which in faith and hope were '"laid hold" of in 1830, were "held fast" until the end. (Heb. vi. 18, x. 23.) And the divine faithfulness proved a safe anchorage-- ground in the most prolonged and violent tempests. The anchor of hope, sure and steadfast, and entering into that within the veil, was never dragged from its secure hold on God. In fifty thousand cases, Mr. Müller calculated that he could trace distinct answers to definite prayers; and in multitudes of instances in which God's care was not definitely traced, it was day by day like an encompassing but invisible presence or atmosphere of life and strength.
On August 9, 1831, Mrs. Müller gave birth to a still-born babe, and for six weeks remained seriously ill. Her husband meanwhile laments that his heart was so cold and carnal, and his prayers often so hesitating and formal; and he detects, even behind his zeal for God, most unspiritual frames. He especially chides himself for not having more seriously thought of the peril of child-bearing, so as to pray more earnestly for his wife; and he saw clearly that the prospect of parenthood had not been rejoiced in as a blessing, but rather as implying a new burden and hindrance in the Lord's work.
While this man of God lays bare his heart in his journal, the reader must feel that "as in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man." How many a servant of God has no more exalted idea of the divine privilege of a sanctified parenthood! A wife and a child are most precious gifts of God when received, in answer to prayer, from His hand. Not only are they not hindrances, but they are helps, most useful in fitting a servant of Christ for certain parts of his work for which no other preparation is so adequate. They serve to teach him many most valuable lessons and to round out his character into a far more symmetrical beauty and serviceableness. And when it is remembered how a godly association in holiness and usefulness may thus be supplied, and above all a godly succession through many generations, it will be seen how wicked is the spirit that treats holy wedlock and its fruits in offspring, with lightness and contempt. Nor let us forget that promise:
"If two of you agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven."
(Matt. xviii. 19.)
The Greek word for "agree" is symphonize, and suggests a musical harmony where chords are tuned to the same key and struck by a master hand. Consider what a blessed preparation for such habitual symphony in prayer is to be found in the union of a husband and wife in the Lord! May it not be that to this the Spirit refers when He bids husband and wife dwell in unity, as "heirs together of the grace of life," and adds, "that your prayers be not hindered." (1 Peter iii. 7.)
God used this severe lesson for permanent blessing to George Müller. He showed him how open was his heart to the subtle power of selfishness and carnality, and how needful was this chastisement to teach him the sacredness of marital life and parental responsibility. Henceforth he judged himself, that he might not be judged of the Lord." (1 Cor. xi. 31.)
A crisis like his wife's critical illness created a demand for much extra expense, for which no provision had been made, not through carelessness and improvidence, but upon principle. Mr. Müller held that to lay by in store is inconsistent with full trust in God, who in such case would send us to our hoardings before answering prayer for more supplies. Experience in this emergency justified his faith; for not only were all unforeseen wants supplied, but even the delicacies and refreshments needful for the sick and weak; and the two medical attendants graciously declined all remuneration for services which extended through six weeks. Thus was there given of the Lord more than could have been laid up against this season of trial, even had the attempt been made.
The principle of committing future wants to the Lord's care, thus acted upon at this time, he and his wife consistently followed so long as they lived and worked together. Experience confirmed them in the conviction that a life of trust forbids laying up treasures against unforeseen needs, since with God no emergency is unforeseen and no want unprovided for; and He may be as implicitly trusted for extraordinary needs as for our common daily bread.
Yet another law, kindred to this and thoroughly inwrought into Mr. Müller's habit of life, was never to contract debt, whether for personal purposes or the Lord's work. This matter was settled on scriptural grounds once for all (Romans xiii. 8), and he and his wife determined if need be to suffer starvation rather than to buy anything without paying for it when bought. Thus they always knew how much they had to buy with, and what they had left to give to others or use for others' wants.
There is yet another law of life early framed into Mr. Müller's personal decalogue. He regarded any money which was in his hands already designated for, as appropriated to, a specific use, as not his to use, even temporarily, for any other ends. Thus, though he was often reduced to the lowest point of temporal supplies, he took no account of any such funds set apart for other outlays or due for other purposes. Thousands of times he was in straits where such diversion of funds for a time seemed the only and the easy way out, but where this would only have led him into new embarrassments. This principle, intelligently adopted, firmly adhered to, that what properly belongs to a particular branch of work, or has been already put aside for a certain use, even though yet in hand, is not to be reckoned on as available for any other need, however pressing. Trust in God implies such knowledge on His part of the exact circumstances that He will not constrain us to any such misappropriation. Mistakes, most serious and fatal, have come from lack of conscience as well as of faith in such exigencies-- drawing on one fund to meet the overdraught upon another, hoping afterward to replace what is thus withdrawn. A well-known college president had nearly involved the institution of which he was the head, in bankruptcy, and himself in worse moral ruin, all the result of one error-- money given for endowing certain chairs had been used for current expenses until public confidence had been almost hopelessly impaired.
Thus a life of faith. must be no less a life of conscience. Faith and trust in God, and truth and faithfulness toward man, walked side by side in this life-journey in unbroken agreement.
GEORGE Müller OF BRISTOL
Passion for souls is a divine fire, and in the heart of George Müller that fire now began to burn more brightly, and demanded vent.
In August, 1827, his mind was more definitely than before turned toward mission work. Hearing that the Continental Society of Britain sought a minister for Bucharest, he offered himself through Dr. Tholuck, who, in behalf of the Society, was on the lookout for a suitable candidate. To his great surprise his father gave consent, though Bucharest was more than a thousand miles distant and as truly missionary ground as any other field. After a short visit home he came back to Halle, his face steadfastly set toward his far-off field, and his heart seeking prayerful preparation for expected self-sacrifice and hardship. But God had other plans for His servant, and he never went to Bucharest.
In October following, Hermann Ball, passing through Halle, and being at the little weekly meeting in Müller's room, told him how failing health forbade his continuing his work among Polish Jews; and at once there sprang up in George Müller's mind a strong desire to take his place. Such work doubly attracted him, because it would bring him into close contact with God's chosen but erring people, Israel; and because it could afford opportunity to utilize those Hebrew studies which so engrossed him.
At this very time, calling upon Dr. Tholuck, he was asked, to his surprise, whether he had ever felt a desire to labour among the Jews-- Dr. Tholuck then acting as agent for the London Missionary Society for promoting missions among them. This question naturally fanned the flame of his already kindled desire; but, shortly after, Bucharest being the seat of the war then raging between the Russians and Turks, the project of sending a minister there was for the time abandoned. But a door seemed to open before him just as another shut behind him.
The committee in London, learning that he was available as a missionary to the Jews, proposed his coming to that city for six months as a missionary student to prepare for the work. To enter thus on a sort of probation was trying to the flesh, but, as it seemed right that there should be opportunity for mutual acquaintance between committee and candidate, to insure harmonious cooperation, his mind was disposed to accede to the proposal.
There was, however, a formidable obstacle. Prussian male subjects must commonly serve three years in the army, and classical students who have passed the university examinations, at least one year. George Müller, who had not served out even this shorter term, could not, without royal exemption, even get a passport out of the country. Application was made for such exemption, but it failed. Meanwhile he was taken ill, and after ten weeks suffered a relapse. While at Leipsic with an American professor with whom he went to the opera, he unwisely partook of some refreshments between the acts, which again brought on illness. He had broken a blood-vessel in the stomach, and he returned to Halle, never again to enter a theatre. Subsequently being asked to go to Berlin for a few weeks to teach German, he went, hoping at the Prussian capital to find access to the court through persons of rank and secure the desired exemption. But here again he failed. There now seemed no way of escaping a soldier's term, and he submitted himself for examination, but was pronounced physically unfit for military duty. In God's providence he fell into kind hands, and, being a second time examined and found unfit, he was thenceforth completely exempted for life from all service in the army.
God's lines of purpose mysteriously converged. The time had come; the Master spake and it was done: all things moved in one direction-- to set His servant free from the service of his country, that, under the Captain of his salvation, he might endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ, without entanglement in the affairs of this life. Aside from this, his stay at the capital had not been unprofitable, for he had preached five times a week in the poorhouse and conversed on the Lord's days with the convicts in the prison.
In February, 1829, he left for London, on the way visiting his father at Heimersleben, where he had returned after retirement from office; and he reached the English metropolis March 19th. His liberty was much curtailed as a student in this new seminary, but, as no rule conflicted with his conscience, he submitted. He studied about twelve hours daily, giving attention mainly to Hebrew and cognate branches closely connected with his expected field. Sensible of the risk of that deadness of soul which often results from undue absorption in mental studies, he committed to memory much of the Hebrew Old Testament and pursued his tasks in a prayerful spirit, seeking God's help in matters, however minute, connected with daily duty.
Tempted to the continual use of his native tongue by living with his German countrymen, he made little progress in English, which he afterward regretted; and he was wont, therefore, to counsel those who propose to work among a foreign people, not only to live among them in order to learn their language, but to keep aloof as far as may be from their own countrymen, so as to be compelled to use the tongue which is to give them access to those among whom they labour.
In connection with this removal to Britain a seemingly trivial occurrence left upon him a lasting impress-- another proof that there are no little things in life. Upon a very small hinge a huge door may swing and turn. It is, in fact, often the apparently trifling events that mould our history, work, and destiny.
A student incidentally mentioned a dentist in Exeter-- a Mr. Grove who for the Lord's sake had resigned his calling with fifteen hundred pounds a year, and with wife and children offered himself as missionary to Persia, simply trusting the Lord for all temporal supplies. This act of self-denying trust had a strange charm for Mr. Müller, and he could not dismiss it from his mind; indeed, he distinctly entered it in his journal and wrote about it to friends at home. It was another lesson in faith, and in the very line of that trust of which for more than sixty years he was to be so conspicuous an example and illustration.
In the middle of May, 1829, he was taken ill and felt himself to be past recovery. Sickness is often attended with strange self-disclosure. His conviction of sin and guilt at his conversion was too superficial and shallow to leave any after-remembrance. But, as is often true in the history of God's saints, the sense of guilt, which at first seemed to have no roots in conscience and scarce an existence, struck deeper into his being and grew stronger as he knew more of God and grew more like Him. This common experience of saved souls is susceptible of easy explanation. Our conceptions of things depend mainly upon two conditions: first, the clearness of our vision of truth and duty; and secondly, the standard of measurement and comparison. The more we live in God and unto God, the more do our eyes become enlightened to see the enormity and deformity of sin, so that we recognize the hatefulness of evil more distinctly: and the more clearly do we recognize the perfection of God's holiness and make it the pattern and model of our own holy living.
The amateur musician or artist has a false complacency in his own very imperfect work only so far as his ear or eye or taste is not yet trained to accurate discrimination; but, as he becomes more accomplished in a fine art, and more appreciative of it, he recognizes every defect or blemish of his previous work, until the musical performance seems a wretched failure and the painting a mere daub. The change, however, is wholly in the workman and not in the work, both the music and the painting are in themselves just what they were, but the man is capable of something so much better, that his standard of comparison is raised to a higher level, and his capacity for a true judgment is correspondingly enlarged.
Even so a child of God who, like Elijah, stands before Him as a waiting, willing, obedient servant, and has both likeness to God and power with God, may get under the juniper-tree of despondency, cast down with the sense of unworthiness and ill desert. As godliness increases the sense of ungodliness becomes more acute, and so feelings never accurately gauge real assimilation to God. We shall seem worst in our own eyes when in His we are best, and conversely.
A Mohammedan servant ventured publicly to challenge a preacher who, in an Indian bazaar, was asserting the universal depravity of the race, by affirming that he knew at least one woman who was immaculate, absolutely without fault, and that woman, his own Christian mistress. The preacher bethought himself to ask in reply whether he had any means of knowing whether that was her opinion of herself, which caused the Mohammedan to confess that there lay the mystery: she had been often overheard in prayer confessing herself the most unworthy of sinners.
To return from this digression, Mr. Müller, not only during this illness, but down to life's sudden close, had a growing sense of sin and guilt which would at times have been overwhelming, had he not known upon the testimony of the Word that "whoso covereth his sins shall not prosper, but he that confesseth and forsaketh them shall find mercy." From his own guilt he turned his eyes to the cross where it was atoned for, and to the mercy-seat where forgiveness meets the penitent sinner; and so sorrow for sin was turned into the joy of the justified.
This confidence of acceptance in the Beloved so stripped death of its terrors that during this illness he longed rather to depart and to be with Christ; but after a fortnight he was pronounced better, and, though still longing for the heavenly rest, he submitted to the will of God for a longer sojourn in the land of his pilgrimage, little foreseeing what joy he was to find in living for God, or how much he was to know of the days of heaven upon earth.
During this illness, also, he showed the growing tendency to bring before the Lord in prayer even the minutest matters which his later life so signally exhibited. He constantly besought God to guide his physician, and every new dose of medicine was accompanied by a new petition that God would use it for his good and enable him with patience to await His will. As he advanced toward recovery he sought rest at Teignmouth, where, shortly after his arrival, "Ebenezer" chapel was reopened. It was here also that Mr. Müller became acquainted with Mr. Henry Craik, who was for so many years not only his friend, but fellow labourer.
It was also about this time that, as he records, certain great truths began to be made clear to him and to stand out in much prominence. This period of personal preparation is so important in its bearing on his whole after-career that the reader should have access to his own witness.*
On returning to London, prospered in soul-health as also in bodily vigor, he proposed to fellow students a daily morning meeting, from 6 to 8, for prayer and Bible study, when each should give to the others such views of any passage read as the Lord might give him. These spiritual exercises proved so helpful and so nourished the appetite for divine things that, after continuing in prayer late into the evening hours, he sometimes at midnight sought the fellowship of some like-minded brother, and thus prolonged the prayer season until one or two o'clock in the morning; and even then sleep was often further postponed by his overflowing joy in God. Thus, under his great Teacher, did this pupil, early in his spiritual history, learn that supreme lesson that to every child of God the word of God is the bread of life, and the prayer of faith the breath of life.
Mr. Müller had been back in London scarcely ten days before health again declined, and the conviction took strong hold upon him that he should not spend his little strength in confining study, but at once get about his work; and this conviction was confirmed by the remembrance of the added light which God had given him and the deeper passion he now felt to serve Him more freely and fully. Under the pressure of this persuasion that both his physical and spiritual welfare would be promoted by actual labours for souls, he sought of the Society a prompt appointment to his field of service; and that they might with the more confidence commission him, he asked that some experienced man might be sent out with him as a fellow counsellor and labourer.
After waiting in vain for six weeks for an answer to this application, he felt another strong conviction: that to wait on his fellow men to be sent out to his field and work was unscriptural and therefore wrong. Barnabas and Saul were called by name and sent forth by the Holy Spirit, before the church at Antioch had taken any action; and he felt himself so called of the Spirit to his work that he was prompted to begin at once, without waiting for human authority,-- and why not among the Jews in London? Accustomed to act promptly upon conviction, he undertook to distribute among them tracts bearing his name and address, so that any who wished personal guidance could find him. He sought them at their gathering-places, read the Scriptures at stated times with some fifty Jewish lads, and taught in a Sunday-school. Thus, instead of lying like a vessel in dry-dock for repairs, he was launched into Christian work, though, like other labourers among the despised Jews, he found himself exposed to petty trials and persecutions, called to suffer reproach for the name of Christ.
Before the autumn of 1829 had passed, a further misgiving laid hold of him as to whether he could in good conscience remain longer connected in the usual way with this London Society, and on December fifth he concluded to dissolve all such ties except upon certain conditions. To do full justice both to Mr. Müller and the Society, his own words will again be found in the Appendix.*
Early in the following year it was made clear that he could labour in connection with such a society only as they would consent to his serving without salary and labouring when and where the Lord might seem to direct. He so wrote, eliciting a firm but kind response to the effect that they felt it "inexpedient to employ those who were unwilling to submit to their guidance with respect to missionary operations," etc.
Thus this link with the Society was broken. He felt that he was acting up to the light God gave, and, while imputing to the Society no blame, he never afterward repented this step nor reversed this judgment. To those who review this long life, so full of the fruits of unusual service to God and man, it will be quite apparent that the Lord was gently but persistently thrusting George Müller out of the common path into one where he was to walk very closely with Himself; and the decisions which, even in lesser matters furthered God's purpose were wiser and weightier than could at the time be seen.
One is constantly reminded in reading Mr. Müller's journal that he was a man of like frailties as others. On Christmas morning of this year, after a season of peculiar joy, he awoke to find himself in the Slough of Despond, without any sense of enjoyment, prayer seeming as fruitless as the vain struggles of a man in the mire. At the usual morning meeting he was urged by a brother to continue in prayer, notwithstanding, until he was again melted before the Lord-- a wise counsel for all disciples when the Lord's presence seems strangely withdrawn. Steadfast continuance in prayer must never be hindered by the want of sensible enjoyment; in fact, it is a safe maxim that the less joy, the more need. Cessation of communion with God, for whatever cause, only makes the more difficult its resumption and the recovery of the prayer habit and prayer spirit; whereas the persistent outpouring of supplication, together with continued activity in the service of God, soon brings back the lost joy. Whenever, therefore, one yields to spiritual depression so as to abandon, or even to suspend, closet communion or Christian work, the devil triumphs.
So rapid was Mr. Müller's recovery out of this Satanic snare, through continuance in prayer, that, on the evening of that same Christmas day whose dawn had been so overcast, he expounded the Word at family worship in the house where he dined by invitation, and with such help from God that two servants who were present were deeply convicted of sin and sought his counsel.
Here we reach another mile-stone in this life-journey. George Müller had now come to the end of the year 1829, and he had been led of the Lord in a truly remarkable path. It was but about four years since he first found the narrow way and began to walk in it, and he was as yet a young man, in his twenty-fifth year. Yet already he had been taught some of the grand secrets of a holy, happy, and useful life, which became the basis of the whole structure of his after-service.
Indeed, as we look back over these four years, they seem crowded with significant and eventful experiences, all of which forecast his future work, though he as yet saw not in them the Lord's sign. His conversion in a primitive assembly of believers where worship and the word of God were the only attractions, was the starting-point in a career every step of which seems a stride forward. Think of a young convert, with such an ensnaring past to reproach and retard him, within these few years learning such advanced lessons in renunciation: burning his manuscript novel, giving up the girl he loved, turning his back on the seductive prospect of ease and wealth, to accept self-denial for God, cutting loose from dependence on his father and then refusing all stated salary lest his liberty of witness be curtailed, and choosing a simple expository mode of preaching, instead of catering to popular taste! Then mark how he fed on the word of God; how he cultivated the habits of searching the Scriptures and praying in secret; how he threw himself on God, not only for temporal supplies, but for support in bearing all burdens, however great or small; and how thus early he offered himself for the mission field and was impatiently eager to enter it. Then look at the sovereign love of God, imparting to him in so eminent a degree the childlike spirit, teaching him to trust not his own variable moods of feeling, but the changeless word of His promise; teaching him to wait patiently on Him for orders, and not to look to human authority or direction; and so singularly releasing him from military service for life, and mysteriously withholding him from the far-off mission field, that He might train him for his unique mission to the race and the ages to come!
These are a few of the salient points of this narrative, thus far, which must, to any candid mind, demonstrate that a higher Hand was moulding this chosen vessel on His potter's wheel, and shaping it unmistakably for the singular service to which it was destined!
GEORGE Müller OF BRISTOL
THE workman of God needs to wait on Him to know the work he is to do and the sphere where he is to serve Him.
Mature disciples at Halle advised George Müller for the time thus quietly to wait for divine guidance, and meanwhile to take no further steps toward the mission field. He felt unable, however, to dismiss the question, and was so impatient to settle it that he made the common blunder of attempting to come to a decision in a carnal way. He resorted to the lot, and not only so, but to the lot as cast in the lap of the lottery! In other words, he first drew a lot in private, and then bought a ticket in a royal lottery, expecting his steps to be guided in a matter so solemn as the choice of a field for the service of God, by the turn of the "wheel of fortune"! Should his ticket draw a prize he would go; if not, stay at home. Having drawn a small sum, he accordingly accepted this as a "sign," and at once applied to the Berlin Missionary Society, but was not accepted because his application was not accompanied with his father's consent.
Thus a higher Hand had disposed while man proposed. God kept out of the mission field, at this juncture, one so utterly unfit for His work that he had not even learned that primary lesson that he who would work with God must first wait on Him and wait for Him, and that all undue haste in such a matter is worse than waste. He who kept Moses waiting forty years before He sent him to lead out captive Israel, who withdrew Saul of Tarsus three years into Arabia before he sent him as an apostle to the nations, and who left even His own Son thirty years in obscurity before His manifestation as Messiah-- this God is in no hurry to put other servants at work. He says to all impatient souls: "My time is not yet full come, but your time is always ready."
Only twice after this did George Müller ever resort to the lot: once at a literal parting of the ways when he was led by it to take the wrong fork of the road, and afterward in a far more important matter, but with a like result: in both cases he found he had been misled, and henceforth abandoned all such chance methods of determining the mind of God.
He learned two lessons, which new dealings of God more and more deeply impressed:
First, that the safe guide in every crisis is believing prayer in connection with the word of God;
Secondly, that continued uncertainty as to one's course is a reason for continued waiting.
These lessons should not be lightly passed over, for they are too valuable. The flesh is impatient of all delay, both in decision and action; hence all carnal choices are immature and premature, and all carnal courses are mistaken and unspiritual. God is often moved to delay that we may be led to pray, and even the answers to prayer are deferred that the natural and carnal spirit may be kept in check and self-will may bow before the will of God.
In a calm review of his course many years later George Müller saw that he "ran hastily to the lot" as a shorter way of settling a doubtful matter, and that, especially in the question of God's call to the mission field, this was shockingly improper. He saw also how unfit he had been at that time for the work he sought: he should rather have asked himself how one so ignorant and so needing to be taught could think of teaching others! Though a child of God, he could not as yet have given a clear statement or explanation of the most elementary gospel truths. The one thing needful was therefore to have sought through much prayer and Bible study to get first of all a deeper knowledge and a deeper experience of divine things.
Impatience to settle a matter so important was itself seen to be a positive disqualification for true service, revealing unfitness to endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. There is a constant strain and drain on patient waiting which is a necessary feature of missionary trial and particularly the trial of deferred harvests. One who, at the outset, could not brook delay in making his first decision, and wait for God to make known His will in His own way and time, would not on the field have had long patience as a husbandman, waiting for the precious fruit of his toil, or have met with quietness of spirit the thousand perplexing problems of work among the heathen!
Moreover the conviction grew that, could he have followed the lot, his choice would have been a life-mistake. His mind, at that time, was bent upon the East Indies as a field. Yet all subsequent events clearly showed that God's choice for him was totally different. His repeated offers met as repeated refusals, and though on subsequent occasions he acted most deliberately and solemnly, no open door was found, but he was in every case kept from following out his honest purpose. Nor could the lot be justified as an indication of his ultimate call to the mission field, for the purpose of it was definite, namely, to ascertain, not whether at some period of his life he was to go forth, but whether at that time he was to go or stay.
The whole after-life of George Müller proved that God had for him an entirely different plan, which He was not ready yet to reveal, and which His servant was not yet prepared to see or follow. If any man's life ever was a plan of God, surely this life was; and the Lord's distinct, emphatic leading, when made known, was not in this direction. He had purposed for George Müller a larger field than the Indies, and a wider witness than even the gospel message to heathen peoples. He was "not suffered" to go into "Bithynia" because "Macedonia" was waiting for his ministry.
With increasing frequency, earnestness, and minuteness, was George Müller led to put before God, in prayer, all matters that lay upon his mind. This man was to be peculiarly an example to believers as an intercessor; and so God gave him from the outset a very simple, childlike disposition toward Himself. In many things he was in knowledge and in strength to outgrow childhood and become a man, for it marks immaturity when we err through ignorance and are overcome through weakness. But in faith and in the filial spirit, he always continued to be a little child. Mr. J. Hudson Taylor well reminds us that while in nature the normal order of growth is from childhood to manhood and so to maturity, in grace the true development is perpetually backward toward the cradle: must become and continue as little children, not losing, but rather gaining, childlikeness of spirit. The disciple's maturest manhood is only the perfection of his childhood. George Müller was never so really, truly, fully a little child in all his relations to his Father, as when in the ninety-third year of his age.
Being thus providentially kept from the Indies, he began definite work at home, though yet having little real knowledge of the divine art of coworking with God. He spoke to others of their soul's welfare, and wrote to former companions in sin, and circulated tracts and missionary papers. Nor were his labours without encouragement, though sometimes his methods were awkward or even grotesque, as when, speaking to a beggar in the fields about his need of salvation, he tried to overcome apathetic indifference by speaking louder and louder, as though mere bawling in his ears would subdue the hardness of his heart!
In 1826 he first attempted to preach. An unconverted schoolmaster some six miles from Halle he was the means of turning to the Lord; and this schoolmaster asked him to come and help an aged, infirm clergyman in the parish. Being a student of divinity he was at liberty to preach, but conscious ignorance had hitherto restrained him. He thought, however, that by committing some other man's sermon to memory he might profit the hearers, and so he undertook it. It was slavish work to prepare, for it took most of a week to memorize the sermon, and it was joyless work to deliver it, for there was none of the living power that attends a man's God-given message and witness. His conscience was not yet enlightened enough to see that he was acting a false part in preaching another's sermon as his own; nor had he the spiritual insight to perceive that it is not God's way to set up a man to preach who knows not enough of either His word or the life of the Spirit within him, to prepare his own discourse. How few even among preachers feel preaching to be a divine vocation and not a mere human profession; that a ministry of the truth implies the witness of experience, and that to preach another man's sermon is, at the best, unnatural walking on stilts!
George Müller "got through" his painful effort of August 27, 1826, reciting this memoriter sermon at eight A.M. in the chapel of ease, and three hours later in the parish church. Being asked to preach again in the afternoon, but having no second sermon committed to memory, he had to keep silent, or depend on the Lord for help. He thought he could at least read the fifth chapter of Matthew, and simply expound it. But he had no sooner begun the first beatitude than he felt himself greatly assisted. Not only were his lips opened, but the Scriptures were opened too, his own soul expanded, and a peace and power wholly unknown to his tame, mechanical repetitions of the morning, accompanied the simpler expositions of the afternoon, with this added advantage, that he talked on a level with the people and not over their heads, his colloquial, earnest speech riveting their attention.
Going back to Halle, he said to himself, "This is the true way to preach," albeit he felt misgivings lest such a simple style of exposition might not suit so well a cultured refined city congregation. He had yet to learn how the enticing words of man's wisdom make the cross of Christ of none effect, and how the very simplicity that makes preaching intelligible to the illiterate makes sure that the most cultivated will also understand it, whereas the reverse is not true.
Here was another very important step in his preparation for subsequent service. He was to rank throughout life among the simplest and most scriptural of preachers. This first trial of pulpit-work led to frequent sermons, and in proportion as his speech was in the simplicity that is in Christ did he find joy in his work and a harvest from it. The committed sermon of some great preacher might draw forth human praise, but it was the simple witness of the Word, and of the believer to the Word, that had praise of God. His preaching was not then much owned of God in fruit. Doubtless the Lord saw that he was not ready for reaping, and scarcely for sowing: there was yet too little prayer in preparation and too little unction in delivery, and so his labours were comparatively barren of results.
About this same time he took another step-- perhaps the most significant thus far in its bearing on the precise form of work so closely linked with his name. For some two months he availed himself of the free lodgings furnished for poor divinity students in the famous Orphan Houses built by A. H. Francké. This saintly man, a professor of divinity at Halle, who had died a hundred years before (1727), had been led to found an orphanage in entire dependence upon God. Half unconsciously George Müller's whole life-work at Bristol found both its suggestion and pattern in Francké's orphanage at Halle. The very building where this young student lodged was to him an object lesson-- a visible, veritable, tangible proof that the Living God hears prayer, and can, in answer to prayer alone, build a house for orphan children. That lesson was never lost, and George Müller fell into the apostolic succession of such holy labour! He often records how much his own faith-work was indebted to that example of simple trust in prayer exhibited by Francké. Seven years later he read his life, and was thereby still more prompted to follow him as he followed Christ.
George Müller's spiritual life in these early days was strangely chequered. For instance, he who, as a Lutheran divinity student, was essaying to preach, hung up in his room a framed crucifix, hoping thereby to keep in mind the sufferings of Christ and so less frequently fall into sin. Such helps, however, availed him little, for while he rested upon such artificial props, it seemed as though he sinned the oftener.
He was at this time overworking, writing sometimes fourteen hours a day, and this induced nervous depression, which exposed him to various temptations. He ventured into a confectioner's shop where wine and beer were sold, and then suffered reproaches of conscience for conduct so unbecoming a believer; and he found himself indulging ungracious and ungrateful thoughts of God, who, instead of visiting him with deserved chastisement, multiplied His tender mercies.
He wrote to a rich, liberal and titled lady, asking a loan, and received the exact sum asked for, with a letter, not from her, but from another into whose hands his letter had fallen by "a peculiar providence," and who signed it as "An adoring worshipper of the Saviour Jesus Christ." While led to send the money asked for, the writer added wise words of caution and counsel-- words so fitted to George Müller's exact need that he saw plainly the higher Hand that had guided the anonymous writer. In that letter he was urged to "seek by watching and prayer to be delivered from all vanity and self-complacency," to make it his "chief aim to be more and more humble, faithful, and quiet," and not to be of those who "say 'Lord, Lord,' but have Him not deeply in their hearts." He was also reminded that "Christianity consists not in words but in power, and that there must be life in us."
He was deeply moved by this message from God through an unknown party, and the more as it had come, with its enclosure, at the time when he was not only guilty of conduct unbecoming a disciple, but indulging hard thoughts of his heavenly Father. He went out to walk alone, and was so deeply wrought on by God's goodness and his own ingratitude that he knelt behind a hedge, and, though in snow a foot deep, he forgot himself for a half-hour in praise, prayer, and self-surrender.
Yet so deceitful is the human heart that a few weeks later he was in such a backslidden state that, for a time, he was again both careless and prayerless, and one day sought to drown the voice of conscience in the wine-cup. The merciful Father gave not up his child to folly and sin. He who once could have gone to great lengths in dissipation now found a few glasses of wine more than enough; his relish for such pleasures was gone, and so was the power to silence the still small voice of conscience and of the Spirit of God.
Such vacillations in Christian experience were due in part to the lack of holy associations and devout companionships. Every disciple needs help in holy living, and this young believer yearned for that spiritual uplift afforded by sympathetic fellow believers. In vacation times he had found at Gnadau, the Moravian settlement some three miles from his father's residence, such soul refreshment, but Halle itself supplied little help. He went often to church, but seldom heard the gospel, and in that town of over 30,000, with all its ministers, he found not one enlightened clergyman. When, therefore, he could hear such a preacher as Dr. Tholuck, he would walk ten or fifteen miles to enjoy such a privilege. The meetings continued at Mr. Wagner's house; and on the Lord's day evenings some six or more believing students were wont to gather, and both these assemblies were means of grace. From Easter, 1827, so long as he remained in Halle, this latter meeting was held in his own room, and must rank alongside those little gatherings of the "Holy Club" in Lincoln College, Oxford, which a hundred years before had shaped the Wesleys and Whitefield for their great careers. Before George Müller left Halle the attendance at this weekly meeting in his room had grown to twenty.
These assemblies were throughout very simple and primitive. In addition to prayer, singing, and reading of God's word, one or more brethren exhorted or read extracts from devout books. Here young Müller freely opened his heart to others, and through their counsels and prayers was delivered from many snares.
One lesson, yet to be learned, was that the one fountain of all wisdom and strength is the Holy Scriptures. Many disciples practically prefer religious books to the Book of God. He had indeed found much of the reading with which too many professed believers occupy their minds to be but worthless chaff-- such as French and German novels; but as yet he had not formed the habit of reading the word of God daily and systematically as in later life, almost to the exclusion of other books. In his ninety-second year, he said to the writer, that for every page of any other reading he was sure he read ten of the Bible. But, up to that November day in 1825 when he first met a praying band of disciples, he had never to his recollection read one chapter in the Book of books; and for the first four years of his new life he gave to the works of uninspired men practical preference over the Living Oracles.
After a true relish for the Scriptures had been created, he could not understand how he could ever have treated God's Book with such neglect. It seemed obvious that God having condescended to become an Author, inspiring holy men to write the Scriptures, He would in them impart the most vital truths; His message would cover all matters which concern man's welfare, and therefore, under the double impulse of duty and delight, we should instinctively and habitually turn to the Bible. Moreover, as he read and studied this Book of God, he felt himself admitted to more and more intimate acquaintance with the Author. During the last twenty years of his life he read it carefully through, four or five times annually, with a growing sense of his own rapid increase in the knowledge of God thereby.
Such motives for Bible study it is strange that any true believer should overlook. Ruskin, in writing "Of the King's Treasuries," refers to the universal ambition for "advancement in life," which means "getting into good society." How many obstacles one finds in securing an introduction to the great and good of this world, and even then in getting access to them, in securing an audience with the kings and queens of human society! Yet there is open to us a society of people of the very first rank who will meet us and converse with us so long as we like, whatever our ignorance, poverty, or low estate-- namely, the society of authors; and the key that unlocks their private audience-chamber is their books.
So writes Ruskin, and all this is beautifully true; but how few, even among believers, appreciate the privilege of access to the great Author of the universe through His word! Poor and rich, high and low, ignorant and learned, young and old, all alike are welcomed to the audience-chamber of the King of kings. The most intimate knowledge of God is possible on one condition-- that we search His Holy Scriptures, prayerfully and habitually, and translate what we there find, into obedience. Of him who thus meditates on God's law day and night, who looks and continues looking into this perfect law of liberty, the promise is unique, and found in both Testaments:
"Whatsoever he doeth shall prosper";
"that man shall be blessed in his deed."
(Comp. Psalm i. 3; Joshua i. 8; James i. 25.)
So soon as George Müller found this well-spring of delight and success, he drank habitually at this fountain of living waters. In later life he lamented that, owing to his early neglect of this source of divine wisdom and strength, he remained so long in spiritual infancy, with its ignorance and impotence. So long and so far as his growth in knowledge of God was thus arrested his growth in grace was likewise hindered. His close walk with God began at the point where he learned that such walk is always in the light of that inspired word which is divinely declared to be to the obedient soul "a lamp unto the feet and a light unto the path." He who would keep up intimate converse with the Lord must habitually find in the Scriptures the highway of such companionship. God's aristocracy, His nobility, the princes of His realm, are not the wise, mighty, and high-born of earth, but often the poor, weak, despised of men, who abide in His presence and devoutly commune with Him through His inspired word.
Blessed are they who have thus learned to use the key which gives free access, not only to the King's Treasuries, but to the King Himself!
GEORGE Müller OF BRISTOL
THE lost days of sin, now forever past, the days of heaven upon earth began to dawn, to grow brighter till the perfect day.
We enter the second period of this life we are reviewing. After a score of years of evil-doing George Müller was converted to God, and the radical nature of the change strikingly proves and displays the sovereignty of Almighty Grace. He had been kept amid scenes of outrageous and flagrant sin, and brought through many perils, as well as two serious illnesses, because divine purposes of mercy were to be fulfilled in him. No other explanation can adequately account for the facts.
Let those who would explain such a conversion without taking God into account remember that it was at a time when this young sinner was as careless as ever; when he had not for years read the Bible or had a copy of it in his possession; when he had seldom gone to a service of worship, and had never yet even heard one gospel sermon; when he had never been told by any believer what it is to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and to live by God's help and according to His Word; when, in fact, he had no conception of the first principles of the doctrine of Christ, and knew not the real nature of a holy life, but thought all others to be as himself, except in the degree of depravity and iniquity. This young man had thus grown to manhood without having learned that rudimental truth that sinners and saints differ not in degree but in kind; that if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation; yet the hard heart of such a man, at such a time and in such conditions, was so wrought upon by the Holy Spirit that he suddenly found entrance into a new sphere of life, with new adaptations to its new atmosphere.
The divine Hand in this history is doubly plain when, as we now look back, we see that this was also the period of preparation for his life-work-- a preparation the more mysterious because he had as yet no conception or forecast of that work. During the next ten years we shall watch the divine Potter, to Whom George Müller was a chosen vessel for service, moulding and fitting the vessel for His use. Every step is one of preparation, but can be understood only in the light which that future casts backward over the unique ministry to the church and the world, to which this new convert was all unconsciously separated by God and was to become so peculiarly consecrated.
One Saturday afternoon about the middle of November, 1825, Beta said to Müller, as they were returning from a walk, that he was going that evening to a meeting at a believer's house, where he was wont to go on Saturdays, and where a few friends met to sing, to pray, and to read the word of God and a printed sermon. Such a programme held out nothing fitted to draw a man of the world who sought his daily gratifications at the card-table and in the wine-cup, the dance and the drama, and whose companionships were found in dissipated young fellows: and yet George Müller felt at once a wish to go to this meeting, though he could not have told why. There was no doubt a conscious void within him never yet filled, and some instinctive inner voice whispered that he might there find food for his soul-hunger-- a, satisfying something after which he had all his life been unconsciously and blindly groping. He expressed the desire to go, which his friend hesitated to encourage lest such a gay and reckless devotee of vicious pleasures might feel ill at ease in such an assembly. However, he called for young Müller and took him to the meeting.
During his wanderings as a backslider, Beta had both joined and aided George Müller in his evil courses, but, on coming back from the Swiss tour, his sense of sin had so revived as to constrain him to make a full confession to his father; and, through a Christian friend, one Dr. Richter, a former student at Halle, he had been made acquainted with the Mr. Wagner at whose dwelling the meetings were held. The two young men therefore went together, and the former backslider was used of God to "convert a sinner from the error of his way and save a soul from death and hide a multitude of sins."
That Saturday evening was the turning-point in George Müller's history and destiny. He found himself in strange company, amid novel surroundings, and breathing a new atmosphere. His awkwardness made him feel so uncertain of his welcome that he made some apology for being there. But he never forgot brother Wagner's gracious answer: "Come as often as you please! house and heart are open to you." He little knew then what he afterward learned from blessed experience, what joy fills and thrills the hearts of praying saints when an evil-doer turns his feet, however timidly, toward a place of prayer!
All present sat down and sang a hymn. Then a brother-- who afterward went to Africa under the London Missionary Society-- fell on his knees and prayed for God's blessing on the meeting. That kneeling before God in prayer made upon Müller an impression never lost. He was in his twenty-first year, and yet he had never before seen any one on his knees praying, and of course had never himself knelt before God,-- the Prussian habit being to stand in public prayer.
A chapter was read from the word of God, and-- all meetings where the Scriptures were expounded, unless by an ordained clergyman, being under the ban as irregular-- a printed sermon was read. When, after another hymn, the master of the house prayed, George Müller was inwardly saying: "I am much more learned than this illiterate man, but I could not pray as well as he." Strange to say, a new joy was already springing up in his soul for which he could have given as little explanation as for his unaccountable desire to go to that meeting. But so it was; and on the way home he could not forbear saying to Beta: "All we saw on our journey to Switzerland, and all our former pleasures, are as nothing compared to this evening."
Whether or not, on reaching his own room, he himself knelt to pray he could not recall, but he never forgot that a new and strange peace and rest somehow found him as he lay in bed that night. Was it God's wings that folded over him, after all his vain flight away from the true nest where the divine Eagle flutters over His young?
How sovereign are God's ways of working! In such a sinner as Müller, theologians would have demanded a great "law work" as the necessary doorway to a new life. Yet there was at this time as little deep conviction of guilt and condemnation as there was deep knowledge of God and of divine things, and perhaps it was because there was so little of the latter that there was so little of the former.
Our rigid theories of conversion all fail in view of such facts. We have heard of a little child who so simply trusted Christ for salvation that she could give no account of any "law work." And as one of the old examiners, who, thought there could be no genuine conversion without a period of deep conviction, asked her, "But, my dear, how about the Slough of Despond?" She dropped a courtesy and said, "Please, sir, I didn't come that way!"
George Müller's eyes were but half opened, as though he saw men as trees walking; but Christ had touched those eyes. He knew little of the great Healer, but somehow he had touched the hem of His garment of grace, and virtue came out of Him who wears that seamless robe, and who responds even to the faintest contact of the soul that is groping after salvation. And so we meet here another proof of the infinite variety of God's working which, like the fact of that working, is so wonderful. That Saturday evening in November, 1825, was to this young student of Halle the parting of the ways. He had tasted that the Lord is gracious, though he himself could not account for the new relish for divine things which made it seem too long to wait a week for another meal; so that thrice before the Saturday following he sought the house of brother Wagner, there, with the help of brethren, to search the Scriptures.
We should lose one of the main lessons of this life-story by passing too hastily over such an event as this conversion and the exact manner of it, for here is to be found the first great step in God's preparation of the workman for his work.
Nothing is more wonderful in history than the unmistakable signs and proofs of preadaptation. Our life-occurrences are not disjecta membra-- scattered, disconnected, and accidental fragments. In God's book all these events were written beforehand, when as yet there was nothing in existence but the plan in God's mind-- to be fashioned in continuance in actual history-- as is perhaps suggested in Psalm cxxxix.16 (margin).
We see stones and timbers brought to a building site-- the stones from different quarries and the timbers from various shops-- and different workmen have been busy upon them at times and places which forbade all conscious contact or cooperation. The conditions oppose all preconcerted action, and yet, without chipping or cutting, stone fits stone, and timber fits timber-- tenons and mortises, and proportions and dimensions, all corresponding so that when the building is complete it is as perfectly proportioned and as accurately fitted as though it had been all prepared in one workshop and put together in advance as a test. In such circumstances no sane man would doubt thatone presiding mind-- one architect and master builder -- had planned that structure, however many were the quarries and workshops and labourers.
And so it is with this life-story we are writing. The materials to be built into one structure of service were from a thousand sources and moulded into form by many hands, but there was a mutual fitness and a common adaptation to the end in view which prove that He whose mind and plan span the ages had a supreme purpose to which all human agents were unconsciously tributary. The awe of this vision of God's workmanship will grow upon us as we look beneath and behind the mere human occurrences to see the divine Hand shaping and building together all these seemingly disconnected events and experiences into one life-work.
For example, what have we found to be the initial step and stage in George Müller's spiritual history? In a little gathering of believers, where for the first time he saw a child of God pray on his knees, he found his first approach to a pardoning God. Let us observe:
this man was henceforth to be singularly and peculiarly identified with simple scriptural assemblies of believers after the most primitive and apostolic pattern--
meetings for prayer and praise, reading and expounding of the Word, such as doubtless were held at the house of Mary the mother of John Mark--
assemblies mainly and primarily for believers held wherever a place could be found, with no stress laid on consecrated buildings and with absolutely no secular or aesthetic attractions.
Such assemblies were to be so linked with the whole life, work, and witness of George Müller as to be inseparable from his name, and it was in such an assembly that the night before he died he gave out his last hymn and offered his last prayer.
Not only so, but prayer, on the knees; both in secret and in such companion of believers, was henceforth to be the one great central secret of his holy living and holy serving. Upon this corner-stone of prayer all his life-work was to be built. Of Sir Henry Lawrence the native soldiers during the Lucknow mutiny were wont to say that, "when he looked twice up to heaven, once down to earth, and then stroked his beard, he knew what to do." And of George Müller it may well be said that he was to be, for more than seventy years, the man who conspicuously looked up to heaven to learn what he was to do. Prayer for direct divine guidance in every crisis, great or small, was to be the secret of his whole career. Is there any accident in the exact way in which he was first led to God, and in the precise character of the scenes which were thus stamped with such lasting interest and importance? The thought of a divine plan which is thus emphasized at this point we are to see singularly illustrated as we mark how stone after stone and timber after timber are brought to the building site, and all so mutually fitted that no sound of any human tool is to be heard while the life-work is in building.
Of coarse a man that had been so profligate and prodigal must at least begin at conversion to live a changed life. Not that all at once the old habits were abandoned, for each total transformation demands deeper knowledge of the word and will of God than George Müller yet had. But within him a new separating and sanctifying Power was at work. There was a distaste for wicked joys and former companions; the frequenting of taverns entirely ceased, and a lying tongue felt new and strange bands about it. A watch was set at the door of the lips, and every word that went forth was liable to a challenge, so that old habits of untamed speech were arrested and corrected.
At this time he was translating into German for the press a French novel, hoping to use the proceeds of his work for a visit to Paris, etc. At first the plan for the pleasure-trip was abandoned, then the question arose whether the work itself should not be. Whether his convictions were not clear or his moral courage not sufficient, he went on with the novel. It was finished, but never published. Providential hindrances prevented or delayed the sale and publication of the manuscript until clearer spiritual vision showed him that the whole matter was not of faith and was therefore sin, so that he would neither sell nor print the novel, but burned it-- another significant step, for it was his first courageous act of self-denial in surrender to the voice of the Spirit-- and another stone or timber was thus ready for the coming building.
He now began in different directions a good fight against evil. Though as yet weak and often vanquished before temptation, he did not habitually "continue in sin" nor offend against God without godly sorrow. Open sins became less frequent and secret sins less ensnaring. He read the word of God, prayed often, loved fellow disciples, sought church assemblies from right motives, and boldly took his stand on the side of his new Master, at the cost of reproach and ridicule from his fellow students.
George Müller's next marked step in his new path was the discovery of the preciousness of the word of God.
At first he had a mere hint of the deep mines of wealth which he afterward explored. But his whole life-history so circles about certain great texts that whenever they come into this narrative they should appear in capitals to mark their prominence. And, of them all, that "little gospel" in John iii. 16 is the first, for by it he found a full salvation:
"GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD,
THAT HE GAVE HIS ONLY BEGOTTEN SON,
THAT WHOSOEVER BELIEVETH IN HIM
SHOULD NOT PERISH,
BUT HAVE EVERLASTING LIFE."
From these words he got his first glimpse of the philosophy of the plan of salvation-- why and how the Lord Jesus Christ bore our sins in His own body on the tree as our vicarious Substitute and suffering Surety, and how His sufferings in Gethsemane and Golgotha made it forever needless that the penitent believing sinner should bear his own iniquity and die for it.
Truly to grasp this fact is the beginning of a true and saving faith-- what the Spirit calls" laying hold." He who believes and knows that God so loved him first, finds himself loving God in return, and faith works by love to purify the heart, transform the life, and overcome the world.
It was so with George Müller. He found in the word of God one great fact: the love of God in Christ. Upon that fact faith, not feeling, laid hold; and then the feeling came naturally without being waited for or sought after. The love of God in Christ constrained him to a love-- infinitely unworthy, indeed, of that to which it responded, yet supplying a new impulse unknown before. What all his father's injunctions, chastisements, entreaties, with all the urgent dictates of his own conscience, motives of expediency, and repeated resolves of amendment, utterly failed to effect, the love of God both impelled and enabled him to do-- renounce a life of sinful self-indulgence. Thus early he learned that double truth, which he afterwards passionately loved to teach others, that in the blood of God's atoning Lamb is the Fountain of both forgiveness and cleansing. Whether we seek pardon for sin or power over sin, the sole source and secret are in Christ's work for us.
The new year 1826 was indeed a new year to this newborn soul. He began to read missionary journals, which kindled a new flame in his heart. He felt a yearning-- not very intelligent as yet-- to be himself a messenger to the nations, and frequent praying deepened and confirmed the impression. As his knowledge of the world-field enlarged, new facts as to the destitution and the desolation of heathen peoples became as fuel to feed this flame of the mission spirit.
A carnal attachment, however, for a time almost quenched this fire of God within. He was drawn to a young woman of like age, a professed believer, whom he had met at the Saturday-evening meetings; but he had reason to think that her parents would not give her up to a missionary life, and he began, half-unconsciously, to weigh in the balance his yearning for service over against his passion for a fellow creature. Inclination, alas, out-weighed duty. Prayer lost its power and for the time was almost discontinued, with corresponding decline in joy. His heart was turned from the foreign field, and in fact from all self-denying service. Six weeks passed in this state of spiritual declension, when God took a strange way to reclaim the backslider.
A young brother, Hermann Ball, wealthy, cultured, and with every promising prospect for this world to attract him, made a great self-sacrifice. He chose Poland as a field, and work among the Jews as his mission, refusing to stay at home to rest in the soft nest of self-indulgent and luxurious ease. This choice made on young Müller a deep impression. He was compelled to contrast with it his own course. For the sake of a passionate love for a young woman he had given up the work to which he felt drawn of God, and had become both joyless and prayerless: another young man, with far more to draw him worldward, had, for the sake of a self-denying service among despised Polish Jews, resigned all the pleasures and treasures of the world. Hermann Ball was acting and choosing as Moses did in the crisis of his history, while he, George Müller, was acting and choosing more like that profane person Esau, when for one morsel of meat he bartered his birthright. The result was a new renunciation-- he gave up the girl he loved, and forsook a connection which had been formed without faith and prayer and had proved a source of alienation from God.
Here we mark another new and significant step in preparation for his life-work-- a decided step forward, which became a pattern for his after-life. For the second time a decision for God had cost him marked self-denial. Before, he had burned his novel; now, on the same altar, he gave up to the consuming fire a human passion which had over him an unhallowed influence. According to the measure of his light thus far, George Müller was fully, unreservedly given up to God, and therefore walking in the light. He did not have to wait long for the recompense of the reward, for the smile of God repaid him for the loss of a human love, and the peace of God was his because the God of peace was with him.
Every new spring of inward joy demands a channel for outflow, and so he felt impelled to hear witness. He wrote to his father and brother of his own happy experience, begging them to seek and find a like rest in God, thinking that they had but to know the path that leads to such joy to be equally eager to enter it. But an angry response was all the reply that his letter evoked.
About the same time the famous Dr. Tholuck took the chair of professor of divinity at Halle, and the advent of such a godly man to the faculty drew pious students from other schools of learning, and so enlarged George Müller's circle of fellow believers, who helped him much through grace. Of course the missionary spirit revived, and with such increased fervor, that he sought his father's permission to connect himself with some missionary institution in Germany. His father was not only much displeased, but greatly disappointed, and dealt in reproaches very hard to bear. He reminded George of all the money he had spent on his education in the expectation that he would repay him by getting such a "living" as would insure to the parent a comfortable home and support for his old age; and in a fit of rage he exclaimed that he would no longer look on him as a son.
Then, seeing that son unmoved in his quiet steadfastness, he changed tone, and from threats turned to tears of entreaty that were much harder to resist than reproaches. The result of the interview was a third significant step in preparation for his son's life's mission. His resolve was unbroken to follow the Lord's leading at any coat, but he now clearly saw that he could be independent of man only by being more entirely dependent on God, and that henceforth he should take no more money from his father.To receive such support implied obedience to his wishes, for it seemed plainly wrong to look to him for the cost of his training when he had no prospect nor intention of meeting his known expectations. If he was to live on his father's money, he was under a tacit obligation to carry out his plans and seek a good living as a clergyman at home. Thus early in life George Müller learned the valuable lesson that one must preserve his independence if he would not endanger his integrity.
God was leading His servant in his youth to cast himself upon Him for temporal supplies. This step was not taken without cost, for the two years yet to be spent at the university would require more outlay than during any time previous. But thus early also did he find God a faithful Provider and Friend in need. Shortly after, certain American gentlemen, three of whom were college professors,* being in Halle and wishing instruction in German, were by Dr. Tholuck recommended to employ George Müller as tutor; and the pay was so ample for the lessons taught them and the lectures written out for them, that all wants were more than met. Thus also in his early life was written large in the chambers of his memory another golden text from the word of God:
"O FEAR THE LORD, YE HIS SAINTS!
FOR THERE IS NO WANT TO THEM THAT FEAR HIM."
(Psalm xxxiv. 9.)
* One of them, the Rev. Charles Hodge, afterward so well known as professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, etc.
GEORGE Müller OF BRISTOL
A HUMAN life, filled with the presence and power of God, is one of God's choicest gifts to His church and to the world.
Things which are unseen and eternal seem, to the carnal man, distant and indistinct, while what is seen and temporal is vivid and real. Practically, any object in nature that can be seen or felt is thus more real and actual to most men than the Living God. Every man who walks with God, and finds Him a present Help in every time of need; who puts His promises to the practical proof and verifies them in actual experience; every believer who with the key of faith unlocks God's mysteries, and with the key of prayer unlocks God's treasuries, thus furnishes to the race a demonstration and an illustration of the fact that "He is, and is a Rewarder of them that diligently seek Him."
George Müller was such an argument and example incarnated in human flesh. Here was a man of like passions as we are and tempted in all points like as we are, but who believed God and was established by believing; who prayed earnestly that he might live a life and do a work which should be a convincing proof that God hears prayer and that it is safe to trust Him at all times; and who has furnished just such a witness as he desired. Like Enoch, he truly walked with God, and had abundant testimony borne to him that he pleased God. And when on the tenth day of March, 1898, it was told us of George Müller that "he was not," we knew that "God had taken him": it seemed more like a translation than like death.
To those who are familiar with his long life-story, and, most of all, to those who intimately knew him and felt the power of personal contact with him, he was one of God's ripest saints and himself a living proof that a life of faith is possible; that God may be known, communed with, found, and may become a conscious companion in the daily life. George Müller proved for himself and for all others who will receive his witness that, to those who are willing to take God at His word and to yield self to His will, He is a the same yesterday and today and forever": that the days of divine intervention and deliverance are past only to those with whom the days of faith and obedience are past-- in a word, that believing prayer works still the wonders which our fathers told of in the days of old.
The life of this man may best be studied, perhaps, by dividing it into certain marked periods, into which it naturally falls, when we look at those leading events and experiences which like punctuation-marks or paragraph divisions,-- as, for example:
1. From his birth to his new birth or conversion: 1805-1825.
2. From his conversion to full entrance on his life-work: 1825-35.
3. From this point to the period of his mission tours: 1835-75.
4. From the beginning to the close of these tours: 1875-92.
5. From the close of his tours to his death: 1892-98.
Thus the first period would cover twenty years; the second, ten ; the third, forty ; the fourth, seventeen; and the last, six. However thus unequal in length, each formed a sort of epoch, marked by certain conspicuous and characteristic features which serve to distinguish it and make its lessons peculiarly important and memorable.
For example, the first period is that of the lost days of sin, in which the great lesson taught is the bitterness and worthlessness of a disobedient life. In the second period may be traced the remarkable steps of preparation for the great work of his life. The third period embraces the actual working out of the divine mission committed to him. Then for seventeen or eighteen years we find him bearing in all parts of the earth his world-wide witness to God; and the last six years were used of God in mellowing and maturing his Christian character.
During these years he was left in peculiar loneliness, yet this only made him lean more on the divine companionship, and it was noticeable with those who brought into most intimate contact with him that he was more than ever before heavenly-minded, and the beauty of the Lord his God was upon him.
The first period may be passed rapidly by, for it covers only the wasted years of a sinful and profligate youth and early manhood. It is of interest mainly as illustrating the sovereignty of that Grace which abounds even to the chief of sinners. Who can read the story of that score of years and yet talk of piety as the product of evolution? In his case, instead of evolution, there was rather a revolution, as marked and complete as ever was found, perhaps, in the annals of salvation. If Lord George Lyttelton could account for the conversion of Saul of Tarsus only by supernatural power, what would he have thought of George Müller's transformation? Saul had in his favor a conscience, however misguided, and a morality, however pharisaic. George Müller was a flagrant sinner against common honesty and decency, and his whole early career was a revolt, not against God only, but against his own moral sense. If Saul was a hardened transgressor, how callous must have been George Müller!
He was a native of Prussia, born at Kroppenstaedt, near Halberstadt, September 27, 1805. Less than five years later his parents removed to Heimersleben, some four miles off,where his father was made collector of the excise, again removing about eleven years later to Schoenebeck, near Magdeburg, where he had obtained another appointment.
George Müller had no proper parental training. His father's favoritism toward him was harmful both to himself and to his brother, as in the family of Jacob, tending to jealousy and estrangement. Money was put too freely into the hands of these boys, hoping that they might learn how to use it and save it; but the result was, rather, careless and vicious waste, for it became the source of many childish sins of indulgence. Worse still, when called upon to render any account of their stewardship, sins of lying and deception were used to cloak wasteful spending. Young George systematically deceived his father, either by false entries of what he had received, or by false statements of what he had spent or had on hand. When his tricks were found out, the punishment which followed led to no reformation, the only effect being more ingenious devices of trickery and fraud. Like the Spartan lad, George Müller reckoned it no fault to steal, but only to have his theft found out.
His own brief account of his boyhood shows a very bad boy and he attempts no disguise. Before he was ten years old he was a habitual thief and an expert at cheating; even government funds, entrusted to his father, were not safe from his hands. Suspicion led to the laying of a snare into which he fell: a sum of money was carefully counted and put where he would find it and have a chance to steal it. He took it and hid it under his foot in his shoe, but, he being searched and the money being found, it became clear to whom the various sums previously missing might be traced.
His father wished him educated for a clergyman, and before he was eleven he was sent to the cathedral classical school at Halberstadt to be fitted for the university. That such a lad should be deliberately set apart for such a sacred office and calling, by a father who knew his moral obliquities and offences, seems incredible; but, where a state church exists, the ministry of the Gospel is apt to be treated as a human profession rather than as a divine vocation, and so the standards of fitness often sink to the low secular level, and the main object in view becomes the so-called "living," which is, alas, too frequently independent of holy living.
From this time the lad's studies were mixed up with novel-reading and various vicious indulgences. Card-playing and even strong drink got hold of him. The night when his mother lay dying, her boy of fourteen was reeling through the streets, drunk; and even her death failed to arrest his wicked course or to arouse his sleeping conscience. And-- as must always be the case when such solemn reminders make one no better-- he only grew worse.
When he came to the age for confirmation he had to attend the class for preparatory religious teaching; but this being to him a mere form, and met in a careless spirit, another false step was taken: sacred things were treated as common, and so conscience became the more callous. On the very eve of confirmation and of his first approach to the Lord's Table he was guilty of gross sins; and on the day previous, when he met the clergyman for the customary "confession of sin," he planned and practised another shameless fraud, withholding from him eleven-twelfths of the confirmation fee entrusted to him by his father.
In such frames of mind and with such habits of life George Müller, in the Easter season of 1820, was confirmed and became a communicant. Confirmed, indeed! but in sin, not only immoral and unregenerate, but so ignorant of the very rudiments of the Gospel of Christ that he could not have stated to an inquiring soul the simple terms of the plan of salvation. There was, it is true about such serious and sacred transactions, a vague solemnity which left a transient impression and led to shallow resolves to live a better life; but there was no real sense of sin or of repentance toward God, nor was there any dependence upon a higher strength: and, without these, efforts at self-amendment never prove of value or work lasting results.
The story of this wicked boyhood presents but little variety, except that of sin and crime. It is one long tale of evil-doing and of the sorrow which it brings. Once,when his money was all recklessly wasted, hunger drove him to steal a bit of coarse bread from a soldier who was a fellow lodger; and looking back, long afterward, to that hour of extremity, he exclaimed, "What a bitter thing is the service of Satan, even in this world!"
On his father's removal to Schoenebeck in 1821 he asked to be sent to the cathedral school at Magdeburg, inwardly hoping thus to break away from his sinful snares and vicious companions, and, amid new scenes, find help in self-reform. He was not, therefore, without at least occasional aspirations after moral improvement; but again he made the common and fatal mistake of overlooking the Source of all true betterment. "God was not in all his thoughts." He found that to leave one place for another was not to leave his sin behind, for he took himself along.
His father, with a strange fatuity, left him to superintend sundry alterations in his house at Heimersleben, arranging for him meanwhile to read classics with the resident clergyman, Rev. Dr. Nagel. Being thus for a time his own master, temptation opened wide doors before him. He was allowed to collect dues from his father's debtors, and again he resorted to fraud, spending large sums of this money and concealing the fact that it had been paid.
In November, 1821, he went to Magdeburg and to Brunswick, to which latter place he was drawn by his passion for a young Roman Catholic girl whom he had met there soon after confirmation. In this absence from home he took one step after another in the path of wicked indulgence. First of all, by lying to his tutor he got his consent to his going; then came a week of sin at Magdeburg and a wasting of his father's means at a costly hotel in Brunswick. His money being gone, he went to the house of an uncle until he was sent away; then, at another expensive hotel, he ran up bills until, payment being demanded, he had to leave his best clothes as a security, barely escaping arrest. Then, at Wolfenbüttel, he tried the same bold scheme again, until, having nothing for deposit, he ran off, but this time was caught and sent to jail. This boy of sixteen was already a liar and thief, swindler and drunkard, accomplished only in crime, companion of convicted felons and himself in a felon's cell. This cell, a few days later, a thief shared: and these two held converse as fellow thieves, relating their adventures to one another, and young Müller, that he might not be outdone,invented lying tales of villainy to make himself out the more famous fellow of the two!
Ten or twelve days passed in this wretched fellowship,until disagreement led to a sullen silence between them. And so passed away twenty-four dark days, from December 18, 182l, until the 12th of January ensuing, during all of which George Müller was shut up in prison and during part of which he sought as a favour the company of a thief.
His father learned of his disgrace and sent money to meet his hotel dues and other "costs" and pay for his return home. Yet such was his persistent wickedness that, going from a convict's cell to confront his outraged but indulgent parent, he chose as his companion in travel an avowedly wicked man. He was severely chastised by his father and felt that he first make some effort to reinstate himself in his favour. He therefore studied hard and took pupils in arithmetic and German, French and Latin. This outward reform so pleased his father that he shortly forgot as well as forgave his evil-doing; but again it was only the outside of the cup and platter that was made clean: the secret heart was still desperately wicked and the whole life, as God saw it, was an abomination.
George Müller now began to forge what he afterward called "a whole chain of lies." When his father would no longer consent to his staying at home, he left, ostensibly for Halle, the university town, to be examined, but really for Nordhausen to seek entrance into the gymnasium. He avoided Halle because he dreaded its severe discipline, and foresaw that restraint would be doubly irksome when constantly meeting young fellows of his acquaintance who, as students in the university, would have much more freedom than himself. On returning home he tried to conceal this fraud from his father; but just before he was to leave again for Nordhausen the truth became known, which made needful new links in that chain of lies to account for his systematic disobedience and deception. His father, though angry, permitted him to go to Nordhausen, where he remained from October, 1822, till Easter, 1825.
During these two and a half years he studied clerics, French, history, etc., living with the director of the gymnasium. His conduct so improved that he rose in favour and was pointed to as an example for the other lads, and permitted to accompany the master in his walks, to converse with him in Latin. By this time he was a hard student, rising at four A.M. the year through, and applying himself to his books till ten at night.
Nevertheless, by his confession, behind all this formal propriety there lay secret sin and utter alienation from God. His vices induced an illness which for thirteen weeks kept him in his room. He was not without a religious bent, which led to the reading of such books as Klopstock's works, but he neither cared for God's word, nor had he any compunction for trampling upon God's law. In his library, now numbering about three hundred books, no Bible was found. Cicero and Horace, Molière Voltaire, he knew and valued, but of the Holy Scriptures he was grossly ignorant, and as indifferent to them as he was ignorant of them.
Twice a year, according to prevailing custom, he went to the Lord's Supper, like others who had passed the age of confirmation, and he could not at such seasons quite avoid religious impressions. When the consecrated bread and wine touched his lips he would sometimes take an oath to reform, and for a few days refrain from some open sins; but there was no spiritual life to act as a force within, and his vows were forgotten almost as soon as made. The old Satan was too strong for the young Müller, and, when the mighty passions of his evil nature were roused, his resolves and endeavours were so powerless to hold him as were the new cords which bound Samson, to restrain him, when he awoke from his slumber.
It is hard to believe that this young man of twenty could lie without a blush and with the air of perfect candor. When dissipation dragged him into the mire of debt, and his allowance would not help him out, he resorted again to the most ingenious devices of falsehood. He pretended that the money wasted in riotous living had been stolen by violence, and, to carry out the deception he studied the part of an actor. Forcing the locks of his trunk and guitar-case, he ran into the director's room half dressed and feigning fright, declaring that he was the victim of a robbery, and excited such pity that friends made up a purse to cover his supposed losses. Suspicion was, however, awakened that he had been playing a false part, and he never regained the master's confidence; and though he had even then no sense of sin, shame at being detected in such meanness and hypocrisy made him shrink from ever again facing the director's wife, who, in his long sickness, had nursed him like a mother.
Such was the man who was not only admitted to honourable standing as a university student, but accepted as a candidate for holy orders, with permission to preach in the Lutheran establishment. This student of divinity knew nothing of God or salvation, and was ignorant even of the gospel plan of saving grace. He felt the need for a better life, but no godly motives swayed him. Reformation was a matter purely of expediency: to continue in profligacy would bring final exposure, and no parish would have him as a pastor. To get a valuable "cure" and a good "living" he must make attainments in divinity, pass a good examination, and have at least a decent reputation. Worldly policy urged him to apply himself on the one hand to his studies and on the other to self-reform.
Again he met defeat, for he had never yet found the one Source and secret of all strength. Scarce had he entered Halle before his resolves proved frail as a spider's web, not able to restrain him from vicious indulgences. He refrained indeed from street brawls and duelling, because they would curtail his liberty, but he knew as yet no moral restraints. His money was soon spent, and he borrowed till he could find no one to lend, and then pawned his watch and clothes. He could not but be wretched, for it was plain to what a goal of poverty and misery, dishonour and disgrace, such paths lead. Policy loudly urged him to abandon his evil-doing, but piety had as yet no voice in his life. He went so far, however, as to choose for a friend a young man and former schoolmate, named Beta, whose quiet seriousness might, as he hoped, steady his own course. But he was leaning on a broken reed, for Beta was himself a backslider. Again he was taken ill. God made him to "possess the iniquities of his youth." After some weeks he was better, and once more his conduct took on the semblance of improvement.
The true mainspring of all well-regulated lives was still lacking, and sin soon broke out in unholy indulgence. George Müller was an adept at the ingenuity of vice. What he had left he pawned to get money, and with Beta and two others went on a four days' pleasure-drive, and then planned a longer tour in the Alps. Barriers were in the way, for both money and passports were lacking; but fertility of invention swept all such barriers away. Forged letters, purporting to be from their parents, brought passports for the party, and books, put in pawn, secured money. Forty-three days were spent in travel, mostly afoot; and during this tour George Müller, holding, like Judas, the common purse, proved, like him, a thief, for he managed to make his companions pay one third of his own expenses.
The party were back in Halle before the end of September, and George Müller went home to spend the rest of his vacation. To account plausibly to his father for the use of his allowance a new chain of lies was readily devised. So soon and so easily were all his good resolves again broken.
When once more in Halle, he little knew that the time had come when he was to become a new man in Christ Jesus. He was to find God, and that discovery was to turn into a new channel the whole current of his life.
The sin and misery of these twenty years would not have been reluctantly chronicled but to make the more clear that his conversion was a supernatural work, inexplicable without God. There was certainly nothing in himself to "evolve" such a result, nor was there anything in his "environment." In that university town there were no natural forces that could bring about a revolution in character and conduct such as he experienced. Twelve hundred and sixty students there gathered, and nine hundred of them were divinity students, yet even of the latter number, though all were permitted to preach, not one hundredth part, he says, actually "feared the Lord." Formalism displaced pure and undefiled religion, and with many of them immorality and infidelity were cloaked behind a profession of piety. Surely such a man, with such surroundings, could undergo no radical change of character and life without the intervention of some mighty power from without and from above! What this force was, and how it wrought upon him and in him, we are now to see
Introduction by Mr. James Wright and A Prefatory Word
Introduction by Mr. James Wright
VERY soon after the decease of my beloved father-in-law, I began to receive letters pressing upon me the desirableness of issuing as soon as possible a memoir of him and his work.
The well-known autobiography, entitled "Narrative of the Lord's Dealings with George Müller," had been, and was still being, so greatly used by God in the edification of believers and the conversion of unbelievers that I hesitated to countenance any attempt to supersede or even supplement it. But as, with prayer, I reflected upon the subject, several considerations impressed me:
Ist. The last volume of the Narrative ends with the year 1885, so that there is no record of the last thirteen years of Mr. Müller's life excepting what is contained in the yearly reports of "The Scriptural Knowledge Institution."
2d. The last three volumes of the Narrative, being mainly a condensation of the yearly reports during the period embraced in them, contain much unavoidable repetition.
3d. A book of, say, four hundred and fifty pages, containing the substance of the four volumes of the Narrative, and carrying on the history to the date of the decease of the founder of the institution, would meet the desire of a large class of readers.
4th. Several brief sketches of Mr. Müller's career had issued from the press within a few days after the funeral; and one (written by Mr. F. Warne and published by W. P. Mack & Co., Bristol), a very accurate and truly appreciative sketch, had had a large circulation; but I was convinced by the letters that reached me that a more comprehensive memoir was called for, and would be produced, so I was led especially to pray for guidance that such a book might be entrusted to the author fitted by God to undertake it.
While waiting for the answer to this definite petition, though greatly urged by publishers to proceed, I steadily declined to take any step until I had clearer light. Moreover, I was, personally, occupied during May and June in preparing the Annual Report of "The Scriptural Knowledge Institution," and could not give proper attention to the other matter.
Just then I learned from Dr. Arthur T. Pierson, of Brooklyn, N. Y., that he had been led to undertake the production of a memoir of Mr. Müller for American readers, and requesting my aid by furnishing him with some materials needed for the work.
Having complied with this request I was favoured by Dr. Pierson with a syllabus of the method and contents of his intended work.
The more I thought upon the subject the more satisfied I became that no one could be found more fitted to undertake the work which had been called for on this side of the Atlantic also than this my well-known and beloved friend.
He had had exceptional opportunities twenty years ago in the United States, and in later years when visiting great Britain, for becoming intimately acquainted with Mr. Müller, with the principles on which the Orphanage and other branches of "The Scriptural Knowledge Institution" were carried on, and with many details of their working. I knew that Dr. Pierson most thoroughly sympathized with these principles as being according to the mind of God revealed in His word; and that he could, therefore, present not merely the history of the external facts and results of Mr. Müller's life and labours, but could and would, by God's help, unfold, with the ardour and force of conviction, the secret springs of that life and of those labours.
I therefore intimated to my dear friend that, provided he would allow me to read the manuscript and have thus the opportunity of making any suggestions that I felt necessary, I would, as my beloved father-in-law's executor and representative, gladly endorse his work as the authorized memoir for British as well as American readers.
To this Dr. Pierson readily assented; and now, after carefully going through the whole, I confidently recommend the book to esteemed readers on both sides of the Atlantic, with the earnest prayer that the result, in relation to the subject of this memoir, may be identical with that produced by the account of the Apostle Paul's "manner of life" upon the churches of Judea which were in Christ (Gal. i. 24), viz.,
"They glorified God" in him.
18 Charlotte Street, Park Street,
Bristol, Eng., March. 1899.
A Prefatory Word
DR. OLIVER W. HOLMES wittily said that an autobiography is what every biography ought to be. The four volumes of "The Narrative of the Lord's Dealings with George Müller," already issued from the press and written by his own hand, with a fifth volume covering his missionary tours, and prepared by his wife, supplemented by the Annual Reports since published, constitute essentially an autobiography-- Mr. Müller's own life-story, stamped with his own peculiar individuality, and singularly and minutely complete. To those who wish the simple journal of his life with the details of his history, these printed documents make any other sketch of him from other hands so far unnecessary.
There are, however, two considerations which have mainly prompted the preparation of this brief memoir: first, that the facts of this remarkable life might be set forth not so much with reference to the chronological order of their occurrence, as events, as for the sake of the lessons in living which they furnish, illustrating and enforcing grand spiritual principles and precepts: and secondly, because no man so humble as he would ever write of himself what, after his departure, another might properly write of him that others might glorify God in him.
No one could have undertaken this work of writing Mr. Müller's life-story without being deeply impressed with the opportunity thus afforded for impressing the most vital truths that concern holy living and holy serving; nor could any one have completed such a work without feeling overawed by the argument which this narrative furnishes for a present, living, prayer-hearing God, and for a possible and practical daily walk with Him and work with Him. It has been a great help in the preparation of this book that the writer has had such frequent converse with Mr. James Wright, who was so long Mr. Müller's associate and knew him so intimately.
So prominent was the word of God as a power in Mr. Müller's life that, in an appendix, we have given peculiar emphasis to the great leading texts of Scripture which inspired and guided his faith and conduct, and, so far as possible, in the order in which such texts became practically influential in his life; and so many wise and invaluable counsels are to be found scattered throughout his journal that some of the most striking and helpful have been selected, which may also be found in the appendix. This volume has, like the life it sketches, but one aim. It is simply and solely meant to extend, emphasize, and perpetuate George Müller's witness to a prayer-hearing God; to present, as plainly, forcibly, and briefly as is practicable, the outlines of a human history, and an experience of the Lord's leadings and dealings, which furnish a sufficient answer to the question:
WHERE IS THE LORD GOD OF ELIJAH?