by Jim Elliff
The following article is an introduction written by Jim Elliff for the book Autobiography of George Muller, or, A Million and a Half in Answer to Prayer by George Muller
Hardcover | 736 pages | Westminster Literature Resources
On November 8, 1840, a slender, 35 year old man with wiry black hair held a diamond ring in his hand. His wife, a Brethren woman, would certainly not have worn it—much too audacious for a woman of God of her day. No, it was to be sold. Like so many things he would be given during his lifetime, this item was sent to him in order to produce income for the orphans under his care.
With sincere and grateful emotions, Muller turned to scratch two Hebrew words on the windowpane with this diamond—Jehovah Jireh.
Those words, meaning, “the Lord Who Provides,” are the most representative words we could use to explain this man of faith, George Muller. The Lord provided all that he needed from the start of his work until he died in 1898, without asking anyone for help but God alone. He humbly claimed that the Lord had answered 50,000 requests, 30,000 of those in the same hour or day in which they were asked. God would send Muller over £75,000,000 in current equivalency.
Muller, on the one hand, was a churchman, actually shepherding a church in Bristol, England, of about 1200 people. For several years he oversaw two churches, alongside his friend and co-laborer, Henry Craik. During his early days, he started the The Scriptural Knowledge Institute for Home and Abroad (SKI), through which he established day schools mostly on the mainland of Europe. In his lifetime he schooled over 123,000 students. He distributed free published materials by the millions, and supported numerous missionaries through SKI as well, among whom were Hudson Taylor and the first missionaries of the China Inland Mission. Most notable among his activities was the orphanage under his care. In his lifetime he built five capacious buildings to house 2000 orphans at a time. Before he died, 10,024 orphans had been cared for. Then, from age 70-87, he traveled as an itinerant missionary. Most of these trips were a year in duration; one was two years. He went to 42 countries and traveled the equivalent in mileage to eight times around the globe as an elderly man, speaking 5000 to 6000 times outside of Britain.
Surely a man doing all that I have mentioned must have had wealthy supporters in place committed to supplying the money necessary for the enterprises he envisioned. Surely the organizational mechanism for collecting the millions needed for such activities must have been well staffed and trained in the art of raising funds. No, not at all. Everything was accomplished by asking God alone.
Muller’s view of faith was simple, almost childlike. He believed that everything he did was to be guided by Scripture. He was no mystic, refusing to be lead by impressions or even to take Scripture out of context. He believed that living by impressions would lead Christians into much error. Rather, as a man of confidence in the Bible, he found out what God had promised and rested on it. Faith, to Muller, was finding out what God said or what he permitted, and doggedly hanging on to the promises even when circumstances were screaming otherwise.
Muller believed that God did not intend for him to get into debt of any kind. Nor did he solicit for money. This is almost inconceivable from our modern perspective, but I can personally vouch that God can and will supply this way even today. He never once wrote a letter to ask people to give to him or to the ministries under his charge, never approached businessman or foundations for funds, never appealed to churches to support the work. All was done in answer to prayer. He would refuse to disclose the present state of the funds, even when asked, because he believed it might be seen as a subtle appeal for money. He would tell of the activity of God in supplying what was needed in retrospect, as a way of honoring God. And he would not borrow from one fund to supply the other, when monies were designated for a particular aspect of his work. His was a life of faith in the strictest meaning of that word.
I believe the driving impetus for Muller’s faith is found in his explanation for why the orphanage was started. Muller’s meditation on the difficulties of Christians with financial problems, was used by God, as he stated . . .
. . . to awaken in my heart the desire of setting before the church at large, and before the world, a proof that He has not in the least changed; and this seemed to me best done by the establishing of an orphan house. It needed to be something which could be seen, even by the natural eye. Now, if I, a poor man, simply by prayer and faith, obtained, without asking any individual, the means for establishing and carrying on an orphan house, there would be something which, with the Lord’s blessing, might be instrumental in strengthening the faith of the children of God, besides being a testimony to the consciences of the unconverted of the reality of the things of God.
This, then, was the primary reason for establishing the orphan house. I certainly did from my heart desire to be used by God to benefit the bodies of poor children, bereaved of both parents, and seek in other respects, with the help of God, to do them good for this life. I also particularly longed to be used by God in getting the dear orphans trained up in the fear of God; but still, the first and primary object of the work was, and still is, that God might be magnified by the fact that the orphans under my care are provided with all they need, only by prayer and faith, without any one being asked by me or my fellow-laborers, whereby it may be seen that God is FAITHFUL STILL, and HEARS PRAYER STILL.
Above all other things, Muller wished to be a living demonstration that God is alive and answers prayer just as he said he would in the Bible. A friend of mine is fond of saying, “God delights to vindicate the confidences of his children,” as a way of explaining Muller’s view. Consider, he says, the hypothetical situation of your child meeting another child down the street. Your daughter returns saying, “Daddy, I met a little girl and she was so poor that she didn’t even have a coat. But I told her, ‘That’s all right, my daddy will get you one.’” What do you suppose you would do about that? You would buy her one. Why? It’s your glory to do so. You love to vindicate the confidences of your children. This is the way Muller approached God. He knew what few have understood—God delights to show Himself strong to those whose greatest aspiration is to demonstrate to the world that God is who He says He is.
I’m not sure how I first came across the life of Muller, but I’m eternally thankful that it happened. My father spoke of Muller from time to time. He had learned of him from a friend of our family who had made a sizable impression on us all, Dr. E. F. Halleck of Norman, Oklahoma. This gracious pastor/mentor had pointed many to his three great emphases—Bible reading and prayer, and the life of faith emerging from them. These life-messages had become real to him through Muller, and “Preacher Halleck” therefore often talked of Muller in his messages. I “caught” something of Muller’s life of faith interacting with this well-loved older pastor.
When I read my first book on Muller, I knew instantly that His life was going to change mine. And it has. I can almost relive now the initial emotions I experienced as I read outside of my apartment, sitting in the sun, during those University days. Those principles that guided his life—his entire dependence on God for everything, the avoidance of debt, the regulating of all things by Scripture, the refusal to make his needs known or to solicit for money, his passion for the world, the simplicity of his life, etc.—were imprinted on me. I was ready for them; they described the way I wanted to live before the face of God and man. For the rest of my life, I’ve attempted to live by those divinely taught commands and principles, especially since beginning the ministry I now direct.
I believe this life of Muller, perhaps the most definitive compilation of his journals outside of the original Narratives, will have a similar impact on many of you. You will not, perhaps, apply faith to the same calling as Muller, but you must find that way you are to live the life of trust. People do not care so much about what you can do for God, but they desperately need to see what God will do for you.
Addendum: When you are in Bristol, you may still visit the Muller orphan homes, now a college. These impressive structures, all built by faith, speak volumes about God’s faithfulness. The library has some photos of the Muller work taken in the late 1800s if you wish to ask the librarian for them, but do not be surprised that you may know more than they about the history of Muller. In 1948 the children were moved out of the institutional setting of the original homes and into family-like settings in another part of the city. The work still goes on through a variety of ministries as a testimony to the faithfulness of God.
A small but intriguing museum of Muller artifacts has been established for those interested at the offices of the Muller Foundation. It is well worth the time to visit. Julian Marsh, chief executive of the work, is a gracious host. He and others will kindly answer questions about Muller’s life and ministry, as well as the ongoing enterprise. It is helpful to make an appointment prior to your visit. One may also see the Victorian gravesite of Muller by receiving instructions from the home office. The current address and web site of the Muller work is as follows:
The George Muller Foundation
7 Cotham Park
Bristol, England BS6 6DA
Telephone: 0117 924 5001
Web site: www.mullers.org
This article is reprinted by permission
Copyright © 2000 Jim Elliff