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.