AFTER THE missionary tours closed in May, 1892, Mr. Muller devoted himself mainly to caring for the Scriptural Knowledge Institution. He assumed as large a burden for the work as ever, though the heavy end rested mainly upon Mr. Wright’s shoulders. As an old man, he was an active servant in his Master’s vineyard.
There was his congregation at Bethesda to be looked after. This congregation had grown from the original seven Christians, who met on a memorable evening in 1832 to form a church, to ten churches now with a membership of more than 1,200. Out of the original church had sprung ten others, six of which were independent of the mother church, and four being affiliated with it.
Mr. Muller took turns with others in preaching on Sunday mornings to the several congregations, but Sunday evenings he preached mainly at Bethesda, where he usually addressed large audiences. He was also faithful in attending the various prayer meetings as time afforded. Occasionally he was invited to speak outside of Bristol, though he did not make these into extended preaching tours as formerly.
He was an active, happy old man, whose pleasure was found in caring for the work of the Lord. More and more he gave himself to his chief delight, that of reading the Bible and while meditating upon it, bringing his petitions to the Lord. During the latter years of his life he read the Bible through four times yearly.
In his sermons he spoke with the vigor of a younger man. A. T. Pierson heard him speak on Sunday morning March 22, 1896, in the Bethesda Chapel. This was in his ninety-first year, “but there was a freshness, vigor and terseness in his preaching that gave no indication of failing powers; in fact, he had never seemed more fitted to express and impress the thoughts of God,” writes Mr. Pierson.
In his younger years he was often ill, but these spells seemed to leave him as he advanced in age. In 1837 he feared he should go insane, so great was the pressure in his head, and often his stomach gave him severe trouble. In his ninety-second year he wrote in his Report, “I have been able every day, and all the day, to work, and that with ease as seventy years since.”
When called upon to speak to the largest audiences during his missionary tours and on returning home to the Bethesda congregation he had no difficulty whatsoever.
On his ninetieth birthday, when he spoke to the Bethesda congregation, he remarked that his voice and chest were stronger than when he commenced preaching sixty-nine years earlier.
“His mental powers too were as clear as when he passed his examinations,” writes Fred Warne. “For sixty-nine years and ten months he had been a happy man. That he attributed to two things. Firstly, he had maintained a good conscience, not willfully going on a course he knew to be contrary to the mind of God...Secondly, to his love of the Holy Scriptures.”
He was a greater lover of the Bible at ninety than at thirty. It grew upon him with age. In it he found his supreme pleasure and daily he waited upon the Lord as the Word spoke to him.
During these last years, as he had been throughout his long life, he was a hard worker. He always arose at an early hour, spending several hours with the Bible, and at eight he went through his correspondence. After this he received his assistants and laid out much of their work.
In 1892 a reporter from the Christian Commonwealth, who had called upon Mr. Muller, wrote, “I was prepared to see a venerable-looking gentleman, bent beneath the weight of years, and physically feeble. To my surprise I found Mr. Muller in appearance a man of considerable bodily vigor. His tall, stately form was, as far as I observed, not in the least bowed by age, and when he afterwards accompanied me along the corridor his step was firm and his stride lengthy and rapid. His face wears an expression of austerity, and his strongly-marked features show that he is...a man of iron. Yet he knows how to smile, and when he does this, you see quite another aspect of his nature...His manners are those of a prince. He speaks with great deliberation, with a noticeable German accent.
“Here is a man 87 years of age still carrying on with his own hand certainly one of the most remarkable organizations in the history of the world. An idea of the extent of his work may be gathered from the fact that he has, so he told me, seven assistants for correspondence alone.”
Nor were those last years easy. There were heavy burdens to be borne. The trials of faith were as great as ever. On March 1, 1893, as an example of his difficulties, he entered in his Journal, “The income during this week was £92 8s. 8d., for the Orphans, and £9 11s. 2d. for the other objects; being about the sixth part of our weekly expenses; but now the great trial of our faith was nearly brought to a close, as will presently be seen.”
Three days later, he wrote, “This very day God begins to answer our prayers, as we have received a very good offer for the land we have to sell, even £1,000 an acre. The beginning of the day was darker as to outward appearances than ever: but we trusted in God for help.”
Mr. Muller received a heavy blow when his wife died on January 13, 1895. While he was to miss her, there was no evidence of loneliness to be displayed; for he found comfort in his daily communing with God for the needs of the Institution. The heavenly Father stood by his side through this great trial.
He preached the funeral of his second wife, as he had of his first. Seldom does a man of ninety conduct such a service. The faith that sustained him in other trials upheld him in this one also.
“I had an opportunity on last Friday,” writes one who attended the funeral, “of attending the funeral services of Mrs. Muller...and witnessing a simple ceremony, which, perhaps was unique in the history of the world. Here the venerable and venerated patriarch conducted the whole service, and at the age of ninety seemed full of grand faith which has enabled him to accomplish so much and support him in all vicissitudes, trials and labors of a long life...
“His faith seemed unmoved by trial, undimmed by age, and proof against the keenest bereavement...He seemed independent of all the outside means which so many now deem essential to worship. Here we have an object lesson on faith by a man who has erected on Ashley Down such splendid monuments of his belief.”
The following year when Mr. A. T. Pierson was holding meetings in Bristol, he asked Father Muller, as he called him, to speak at the closing meeting of the series, “and he did so, delivering a powerful address of forty-five minutes on Prayer in connection with Missions, and giving his own life-story in part, with a vigor of voice and manner that seemed a denial of his advanced age.”
Toward the close of his life, doctors advised Mr. Muller to preach only once on Sunday, so accordingly he spoke usually in the morning services at Bethesda Chapel. Mr. Pierson, who heard him preach on March 22, 1896, at the Chapel, said, “He spoke on the 77th Psalm; of course he found here his favorite theme — prayer; and, taking that as a fair specimen of his average preaching, he was certainly a remarkable expositor of the Scripture even at ninety-one years of age.”
In the autumn of 1897 he was invited to attend the Birmingham meeting of the British and Foreign Bible Society. Due to an indisposition, he asked to be excused from attending, saying, “Will you have the kindness to read to the meeting that I have been for 68 years and 3 months, viz., since July, 1829, a lover of the Word of God, and that uninterruptedly. During that time I have read considerably more than 100 times through the whole of the Old and New Testaments, with prayer and meditation, four times every year.”
It is estimated that he read the Bible through more than two hundred times, one hundred of these times being, as he here suggests, on his knees.
“My great love for the Word of God,” the letter continues, “and my deep conviction of the need of its being spread far and wide, have led me to pray to God to use me as an instrument to do this, and to supply me with means for it; and He has condescended to enable me to circulate the Scriptures in all parts of the earth, and in various languages; and has been pleased thus, simply through reading of the Holy Scriptures, to bring thousands of persons to the knowledge of the Lord Jesus.”
But to all lives there must come an end, and this grand old man of faith was nearing that time. For him it was literally light at eventide. His days were to end simply and graciously. Like Enoch he walked with God, and “he was not, for God took him.”
In the summer of 1897, the heat was trying, and he was set aside from labors through a short illness. His condition, thought to be critical, soon improved and he was able to be about his usual duties, preaching once a Sunday, attending a few prayer meetings, and overseeing with Mr. Wright the needs of the Home.
On Sunday morning prior to his death, he preached at the Alma Road Chapel. Then at evening he preached again at his beloved home church, the Bethesda Chapel, at which he had ministered for 66 years. His text was from 2 Corinthians 5:1, “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”
This proved to be a gracious service, attended with the usual quiet of the Lord’s leadership, and the text was rightly selected and fittingly so to close a long life of Christian labors.
On the following Monday evening, March 7, 1898, he attended the weekly prayer meeting at Bethesda Chapel, and greeted all of his friends with his customary geniality. On Wednesday he received at Orphan House No. 3 two friends from the National Free Church Conference then in session at Bristol.
Mr. Muller would never allow anyone personally to attend him during the night. Only when a doctor was needed would he permit such medical care. But on this Wednesday morning in speaking with Mr. Wright, he told him that he felt a weakness, saying when he arose that morning he had to rest several times while dressing.
Mr. Wright suggested that he ought to have someone in constant attendance on him and God’s grand old man replied that possibly this would be a good suggestion.
An hour or so later, when Mr. Wright saw him again, Muller said, “The weakness has passed away; I feel quite myself again.”
“You ought to take a longer rest in the morning,” suggested Mr. Wright. But Mr. Muller pointed out how heavy the correspondence was, and thought that this would be impossible, for he always looked after the correspondence himself.
Mr. Wright proposed that he himself arrive at the Orphan Homes earlier to meet any emergencies that might arise. He added, “Suppose I begin tomorrow morning.”
“We will say nothing about tomorrow,” Mr. Muller replied with a deprecatory gesture.
That evening he conducted prayer meeting at the Institution as his custom was. He gave out the hymn, beginning:
The countless multitude on High
Who tune their Songs to Jesus’ name, All merit of their own deny,
And Jesus, worth alone proclaim.
The last hymn he ever sang, as far as any one knows, was this, sung as a benediction to the service,
We’ll sing of the Shepherd that died, That died for the sake of the flock;
His Love to the utmost was tried, And immovable stood as a rock.
When he bade his son-in-law good-night there was no sign of declining strength. He seemed to the last the vigorous old man he had always been and retired to rest as usual. Mr. Wright suggested that he have a night-attendant and Mr. Muller consented to such an arrangement “after tonight.” He was never more to need human attention.
The following morning, March 10, a servant went to his room with a cup of tea, as was the custom. On knocking at the door there was no response, so she opened the door and found Mr. Muller lying on the floor. For some time as body strength began to wane, Mr. Muller asked for a glass of milk and a biscuit to be placed on his dressing table. “Whilst eating the biscuit, he was, it is surmised, seized with a fainting fit, from which he never recovered, and in falling he must have clutched at the table, for the cloth was disarranged and various articles were found scattered upon the floor,” says Fred Warne in his biography.
His doctor was summoned, who thought possibly that Mr. Muller had been dead an hour or so.
“Dear old Mr. Muller,” exclaimed a friend when the news reached him. “He just slipped quietly off Home as the gentle Master opened the door and whispered, ‘Come.’ ”
His death even at such an old age produced a worldwide sensation. The spiritual forces created by his godly life of trust had reached the earth’s ends. From across the waters toward the sunrise and the sunset came a responsive heartbeat of sympathy. People were stirred when the news went forth by telegraph and cable from land to land that George Muller was dead. He was measured by no denominational bonds for he belonged to the whole Church and the entire world. The race sustained a loss in his death.
The golden chain of prayer that Mr. Muller’s life of trust had woven finally was snapped. God, he estimated, had answered over fifty thousand of his prayers, many thousands of which were answered on the day he made them and often before he arose from his knees. Some of his petitions, however, lingered across the decades. Here is a sample of such asking...
“In November, 1844, I began to pray for the conversion of five individuals. I prayed every day without a single intermission, whether sick or in health, on the land or on the sea, and whatever the pressure of my engagements might be. Eighteen months elapsed before the first of the five was converted. I thanked God and prayed on for the others. Five years elapsed, and then the second was converted. I thanked God for the second, and prayed on for the other three. Day by day I continued to pray for them, and six years passed before the third was converted. I thanked God for the three, and went on praying for the other two. These two remained unconverted.
“The man to whom God in the riches of his grace has given tens of thousands of answers to prayer in the self-same hour or day in which they were offered has been praying day by day for nearly thirty-six years for the conversion of these individuals, and yet they remain unconverted. But I hope in God, I pray on, and look yet for the answer. They are not converted yet, but they will be.”
This was the faith that carried him through every straitened place. He met emergencies by asking and in due time God supplied whatever the need might be.
Those prayers? you ask. In 1897, those two men, sons of a friend of Mr. Muller’s youth, were not converted, after he had entreated God in their behalf for fifty-two years daily. But after his death God brought them into the fold! Such was this man’s triumphant faith, whatever the difficulty. If God answered his prayer immediately, he thanked him. If not, he kept on importuning the Lord until the response came. That voice of prayer was now stilled.
The funeral took place on Monday, March 14, and was a popular tribute of affection. A brief service was held at Orphan House No. 3, where over a thousand children met, for the last time to look into the face of the father they had lost. The casket of plain elm, without drapery of flowers, stood before a desk in the spacious dining room, and Mr. Wright conducted the service, speaking on Mr. Muller’s life and labors.
Among those attending was an old lady who called to see the man who in her youth had befriended her. She was one of the first orphans to be received in the Girls’ Home on Wilson Street, sixty years before. There were four present who walked from Wilson Street to the new Ashley Down house on moving day in June, 1849 with the other inmates of the Institution.
Slowly the procession formed in front of Ashley Down and thousands entered it to walk or drive in carriages to the Bethesda Chapel. His staff of workers, the elders and deacons in his churches, deputations from forty or fifty religious bodies, and thousands of friends marched in stately file to perform the last rights to this man to whom they owed a valuable lesson in faith.
At the chapel every available space was taken and scores were forced to remain outside. The hymns were sung which Mr. Muller had given out in his last prayer meeting and Mr. Wright spoke on the text, “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and today and forever.”
“He was wont to say to the young believers,” Mr. Wright declared, “ ‘Put your finger on the passage on which your faith rests’ and he himself had read the Bible from end to end nearly two hundred times. He fed on the Word and was therefore strong...
“I have been asked again and again lately as to whether the orphan work would go on. It is going on! Since the commencement of the year we have received between forty and fifty fresh orphans...The other four objects of the Institution, according to the ability God gives, are still being carried on...I cannot think, however, that the God Who has so blessed the work for so long will leave our prayers as to the future unanswered.”
After the service, the procession re-formed and went to the Arno Vale Cemetery, where another crowd had collected. The grave where Mr. Muller’s body was buried was an ordinary one on the slope of a hill, under the shade of a yew tree, and was by the side of his first and second wives. Mr. G. F. Bergin spoke from the words, “By the grace of God, I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
The crowd gathered around to view for the last time the coffin on which was inscribed, “George Muller, fell asleep 10th March, 1898, in his 93rd year.”
In every pulpit in Bristol and in thousands across the world on the Sunday before the burial, memorial services were conducted and loving tributes were offered in memory of this man of trust. Friends wanted to erect an expensive monument over his grave but this Mr. Wright would not permit. Later gifts from many orphans flowed in and a simple marker was erected therefore, on which was a tribute of love to this man who through faith had cared for about ten thousand orphans.
His monument was not to be in marble, but in the hearts of loving followers, many of whom had preceded him to Heaven — the thousands of orphans he had fed and clothed — the multitudes who had been taught in Sunday schools due to his prayer diligence — those brought to the Master on mission fields through workers who had been supported by his prayer generosity — and the millions who had read the Scriptures and tracts which his faith provided.
This is a monument more lasting than granite, a monument eternal in the heavens.