Despite my sinful lifestyle and cold heart, God had mercy on me. I was as careless about Him as ever. I had no Bible and had not read any Scripture for years. I seldom went to church; and, out of custom only, I took the Lord's Supper twice a year. I never heard the gospel preached. Nobody told me that Jesus meant for Christians, by the help of God, to live according to the Holy Scriptures. In short, I did not have the least idea that there were people who were different from myself.
One Saturday afternoon in November, I took a walk with my friend Beta. He told me that he had begun to visit a Christian's home every Saturday where there was a prayer meeting. He said that they read the Bible, sang, prayed, and read a printed sermon.
When I heard this, I felt as if I had found the treasure I had been seeking all my life. We went to the meeting together that evening. I did not understand the joy that believers have in seeing any sinner become interested in the things of God, so I apologized for coming. I will never forget the kind answer of the dear brother. He said, "Come as often as you please. Our house and hearts are open to you."
We sat down and sang a hymn. Then brother Kayser, now a missionary in Africa, knelt and asked a blessing on our meeting. His kneeling down made a deep impression on me, for I had never - seen anyone on his knees before, nor had I ever prayed on my knees. He read a chapter from the Bible and a printed sermon. At the end of the meeting, we sang another hymn, and then the owner of the house prayed. While he prayed, I thought, "I could not pray as well, although I have more education than this man."
The entire evening made a deep impression on me. I felt happy, although if I had been asked why, I could not have clearly explained it. When we walked home, I said to Beta, "Everything we have seen on our journey to Switzerland and all of our former pleasures are nothing in comparison with this evening."
The Lord begins His work in different ways with different people. I have no doubt that on that evening, He began a work of grace in me. Even though I scarcely had any knowledge of who God truly was, that evening was the turning point in my life.
For the next several days, I went regularly to this brother's house, and we read the Scriptures together. The Lord and the Word were so exciting to me that I could not wait until 'Saturday came again. Now my life became very different, although I did not give up every sin at once. I did give up my wicked companions, going to taverns, and habitual lying. I read the Scriptures, prayed often, loved the brethren, went to church with the right motives, and openly professed Christ although my fellow students laughed at me.
As I read missionary newsletters, I was inspired to become a missionary myself. I prayed frequently concerning this matter for several weeks. A few months later, I met a devoted young brother named Hermann Ball, a learned and wealthy man. He chose to labor in Poland among the Jews as a missionary rather than live a comfortable life near his family. His example made a deep impression on me. For the first time in my life, I was able to give myself up to the Lord fully and without reservation.
The peace of God which passes all, understanding now filled my life. I wrote to my father and brother, encouraging them to seek the Lord and telling them how happy I was. I believed that if they saw the way to happiness, they would gladly embrace it. To my great surprise, they replied with an angry letter.
The Lord sent Dr. Tholuck, a professor of divinity, to Halle. As a result, a few believing students transferred to Halle from other universities. As I became acquainted with other Christians, the Lord helped me to grow in Him.
My former desire to give myself to missionary service returned, and I went to my father to ask his permission. Without it, I would not be admitted to any of the German missionary institutions. My father was greatly displeased and severely reproached me, saying that he had spent so much money on my education hoping that he could comfortably spend his last days with me in a parsonage. Now, all these prospects had come to nothing. He told me that he would no longer consider me his son. Then he wept and begged me to change my mind.
The Lord helped me to bear this difficult trial. Although I needed more money than ever before, I decided never to take any more from my father. I still had two more years of seminary left. It seemed wrong to let my father support me when he had no guarantee that I would become what he wanted me to be-a clergyman earning a good living.
The Lord enabled me to keep this resolution. Several American gentlemen, three of whom were professors in American colleges, came to Halle for literary research. Because they did not understand German, Dr. Tholuck recommended me to teach them. Some of these gentlemen were Christians, and they paid so well for the instruction I gave them and for the lectures I wrote for them that I had enough money for school and some to spare.
The Lord richly made up to me the little I had given up for His sake.
Although I was still very weak and ignorant in faith, I longed, to win souls for Christ. Every month I circulated about three hundred missionary papers, distributed many tracts, and wrote letters to some of my former companions in sin.
A local schoolmaster held a morning prayer meeting a few miles away, and I decided to attend. At that time, however, I did not know that he was not a believer. He later told me that he had held the prayer meetings merely out of kindness to a relative. The sermons he read were not his own, but copied out of a book. He also told me that he had been impressed with my kindness and that I had been instrumental in leading him to care about the things of God. Ever since that time, I knew him as a true brother in the Lord.
This schoolmaster asked me to preach in his parish because the aged clergyman needed my assistance. I thought that by learning a sermon written by a spiritual man I might minister to the people; so I put the sermon into a suitable form and memorized it.
I got through the morning service, but I did not enjoy preaching. I decided to preach the gospel in the afternoon and began by reading the fifth chapter of Matthew. Immediately as I began to teach on, "Blessed are the poor in spirit," I felt the anointing of the Holy Spirit. My morning sermon had been too complicated for the people to understand, but now they listened to me with great interest. My own peace and joy were great, and I felt this was a blessed work.
On my return trip to Halle, I thought, "This is the way I would always like to preach." But then I thought that while this type of preaching might work for illiterate country people, it would never be accepted at the well-educated assembly in town. I knew that the truth should be preached at all costs, but I thought it should be presented in a different form, suited to the hearers. I remained unsettled about choosing a style of preaching for some time. Because I did not yet understand the work of the Spirit, I did not realize the powerlessness of human eloquence.
Although I regularly went to church when I did not preach myself, I seldom heard the truth because there was no enlightened clergyman in the town. When Dr. Tholuck or any other godly minister preached, I often walked ten or fifteen miles to enjoy the privilege of hearing the Word.
In addition to the Saturday evening meeting, I fed my faith at a meeting every Sunday evening with six other believing students. Before I left the university, the number increased to twenty. In these meetings, one or more of the brethren prayed, we read Scriptures, sang hymns, someone exhorted the group, and we read some edifying writings of godly men. I opened my heart to the brethren for prayer and encouragement to keep me from backsliding.
I was growing in the faith and knowledge of Jesus, but I still preferred reading religious books instead of the Scriptures. I read tracts, missionary newsletters, sermons, and biographies of Christian people. God is the author of the Bible, and only the truth it contains will lead people to true happiness. A Christian should read this precious Book every day with earnest prayer and meditation. But like many believers, I preferred to read the works of uninspired men rather than the oracles of the living God. Consequently, I remained a spiritual baby both in knowledge and grace.
The last and most important means of growing in the Lord, prayer, was also something I greatly neglected. I prayed often and generally with - sincerity. But if I had prayed more earnestly, I would have made much more rapid progress in my faith. Despite my slowness to grasp spiritual principles, however, God showed His great patience toward me and helped me to grow steadily in Him.
From the Autobiography of George Muller