THE BUILDING of Mr. Muller’s spiritual life was a constant conflict. While outwardly he displayed a calm attitude toward circumstances, inwardly he battled to obtain this seeming peace. During the earlier years of his faith pilgrimage his battles were more severe and came more often upon him to block that upward climb toward spiritual serenity. He laid the foundation for his prayer life by facing the obstacles in the way of communion with God.
A lack of prayer is more evident during the first years following his conversion than later, since the habit had to be built by diligence. It was by no means an immediate acquisition with him. For instance, while yet a student at Halle, following his spiritual awakening, he decided to leave for the University of Berlin. At once the Spirit checked him for making up his mind with such a burst of speed and not seasoning it with prayer. He says, “When the morning came on which I had to apply to the university for testimonials, the Lord graciously stirred me up prayerfully to consider the matter.”
After prayer he discovered that it was not God’s will for him to make the change. While this was an insignificant incident, still it taught him that his decisions must not be made without carefully considering them in the light of partnership with God. Later in his work there were to be many incidents where he was to be checked by the Lord in setting out on a certain course without first laying it before God.
His assurance that a course was right was founded upon this necessity, which he learned at Halle, of not undertaking an action without seasons of waiting upon God for His sanction.
At about this time, early in 1826, he learned another lesson which was to be used in toughening the fiber of his soul. That concerned itself with Bible reading. Being converted, he did not read his Bible, though he read about the Bible extensively. He was to master this lesson in faith’s curriculum before God trusted him with many answers to his prayers.
“My difficulty in understanding it (the Bible), and the little enjoyment I had in reading it, made me careless in reading it...”
This was in 1826, but when sixteen years of his spiritual warfare had passed, he discovered that a radical change in the method of conducting the spiritual ministrations with his own soul brought added victories. His conflicts within and without were great. He writes, “Before this time my practice had been, at least for ten years previously, as an habitual thing to give myself to prayer after having dressed myself in the morning. Now I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the Word of God, and to meditation on it, that my heart might be comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved.”
Those prayer sessions, when he bared his soul to God, were times of confession. “The result is,” he states, “that there is always a good deal of confession...”
When the London Society accepted him as a missionary, one of the conditions was that he would study with them for six months. This brought him great disappointment. In 1828, he assures us, “For a few moments, therefore, I was greatly disappointed and tried.” These trials and discouragements, which circumstances and conditions brought him, were to be a constant companion of his entire Christian endeavor.
So great were his victories of faith that we are prone to believe that Mr. Muller was ever tried, and so many his answers to prayer that he was ever disappointed when the reply did not come shortly from God. Such is far from the truth.
On March 7, 1831, he says, “I was again tempted to disbelieve the faithfulness of the Lord, and though I was not miserable, still, I was not so fully resting upon the Lord that I could triumph with joy.” He was in dire need and it seemed that God had forgotten him. Shortly however he assures us that joy returned with the answer to his cry in the form of a gift of five sovereigns.
Seven years later this same trial overwhelmed him. On September 17, 1838, he writes, “This evening I was rather tried respecting the long delay of larger sums coming...” When he closed the following year he refers to “the trials of faith during the year,” but adds, “Should it be supposed...by anyone in reading the details of our trials of faith during the year...that we have been disappointed in our expectations or discouraged in the work, my answer is...such days were expected from the commencement...Our desire is not that we may be without trials of faith, but that the Lord graciously be pleased to support us in the trial.”
He also refers to “the deeper trials of his faith,” those things that really disturbed him and kept his mind wandering during seasons of meditation. This was a constant battle with him.
From these occasions of conflict he found release in going to his knees in prayer. “When other trials, still greater,” he states, “but which I cannot mention, have befallen me...I poured out my soul before God, and arose from my knees in peace.” This was his method of breaking Satan’s hold upon his life in the hours of battle.
There were occasions when everything was dark in outlook. Not all was light, nor were all of his days free from those harassing conditions which Christians face. “When sometimes all has been dark, exceedingly dark...judging from natural appearances; yea, when I should have been overwhelmed indeed in grief and despair had I looked at things after the outward appearances...I have sought to encourage myself by laying hold in faith on God’s almighty power, His unchangeable love, and His infinite wisdom.”
A few years later he received a great disappointment when a letter arrived from a sister saying she was unable to send the large sums she had promised. Muller realized shortly that he had placed his trust in the promise of the lady and not in the promise of God. God spoke to him softly, he says, through the passage, “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God.” Immediately peace was restored to his troubled soul.
Mr. Muller was anxious that none who read his “Narrative” or came into contact with God’s dealings with him would think that he were not in spiritual need all the time. He refers to this being in constant need more than twenty years after he first began to trust God for his daily supplies. And these needs were not merely of a financial nature — in fact, he had more immediate freedom from financial worries, or present victory over his heavy financial burdens than over his other more personal “needs.”
He was subject to constant temptation along lines of appearing insincere, or of being proud over what God had done through him.
He writes, under the stress of such spiritual problems often arising in his soul, “I am in continual need...If left to myself I should fall a prey to Satan. Pride, unbelief or other sins would be my ruin. I cannot stand for a moment if left to myself. Oh, that none of my readers might think that I could not be puffed up by pride, and think of me as being beyond unbelief...No, I am as weak as ever.” In 1848 he added, “I need as much as ever to be upheld as to faith and every other grace. I am therefore in ‘need,’ in great ‘need,’ and therefore, dear Christian readers, help me with your prayers.”
To assure us that he was not beyond trial, he said, “Straits and difficulties I expected from the beginning...Therefore the longer I go on in this service, the greater the trials of one kind or another become.”
He faced his weak moments as everyone does. Though strong in faith still he felt the constant urge to keep in instant touch with God, for otherwise, his inner weaknesses would overcome him.
On May 13, 1837, he affirmed, “Today I have had again much reason to mourn over my corrupt nature, particularly on account of want of gratitude for the many temporal mercies by which I am surrounded. I was so sinful as to be dissatisfied on account of the dinner, because I thought it would not agree with me, instead of thanking God for rich provisions and asking heartily the Lord’s rich blessing upon it...I rejoice in the prospect of that day, when, seeing Jesus as He is, I shall be like Him.”
He was often troubled by the many spiritual voids that marked his work. On October 7, 1833, he checked the results of his personal ministry by that of Mr. Craik. He said, “Many more were convinced of sin through brother Craik’s preaching than my own.
This led Mr. Muller to an instant study of his lack of concern for the sinner’s welfare, and once he found the cause, he remedied it through special seasons of prayer in which he asked God for a deepened sense of the tragedy that dogs his path.
When he felt led to build Ashley Down as was his custom he weighed the arguments for and against such a course. Among the arguments against the action was the thought that his constant battle against pride might overwhelm him in the new undertaking. “I should be in danger of being lifted up,” he wrote. “I should be in danger of it indeed...I cannot say that hitherto the Lord has kept me humble. But I can say that hitherto He has given me a hearty desire to give Him all the glory...I have to beseech the Lord that He be pleased to give me a lowly mind.”
This prayer which moved him in 1851 was the result of constantly facing the many praises, which came from friends, because of the daily miracles his faith seemed to bring to pass.
Through the years he worried not a little about a tendency to become irritable because of his physical condition. During the first decade after his conversion he fought to overcome any slight indication that he was not pleased with how he felt, or how the weather might be, or whatever the soul-upheaving circumstances he was going through. An instance of this is found in his Journal under the entry of January 16, 1838.
“The weather has been cold,” he says, ‘for several days, but today I suffered much, either because it was colder than before or because I felt it more owing to the weakness of my body..I arose from my knees and stirred the fire; but I still remained very cold...I was a little irritated by this. At last, having prayed for some time, I was obliged to rise and take a walk...I now entreated the Lord that this circumstance might not be permitted to rob me of the precious communion which I had with Him the last three days, for this was the object at which Satan aimed. I confessed also my sin of irritability on account of the cold and sought to have my conscience cleansed through the blood of Jesus. He had mercy upon me, my peace was restored...and I had uninterrupted communion with Him.”
In 1844 he wrote,”I desired more power over my besetting sins.” When one reads the few times in which Mr. Muller tells the story of his battle over irritability, he is led to wonder if this was not one of those troublesome sins which constantly nagged at his soul.
His entire life was checkered with afflictions, irritations, trials and the victory of peace and spiritual repose. When his daughter took typhus fever in 1854, this checkering appears in his Journal, where he writes:
“Now was the trial of faith. But faith triumphed...While I was in this affliction, this great affliction, besides being at peace as far as the Lord’s dispensation was concerned, I also felt perfectly at peace with regard to the cause of the affliction...It was the Father’s rod, applied in infinite wisdom and love for the restoration of my soul from a state of lukewarmness.
“Conscious as I was of my manifold weaknesses, failings and shortcomings, so that I too would be ready to say with the Apostle Paul, ‘O wretched man that I am!’ yet I was assured that this affliction was...for the trial of my faith.”
He found this route of peace through affliction early in his Christian life. As far back as in 1829 he writes, “The weaker I became in body, the happier I was in my spirit.” This was during a severe illness on May 15 when he despaired of living.
“Never in my whole life,” he continues, “had I seen myself so vile, so guilty, so altogether what I ought not to have been as at this time. It was as if every sin of which I had been guilty was brought to my remembrance; but at the same time I could realize that all my sins have been completely forgiven...The result of this was great peace.”
One of the last entries he made in his Journal shows this same checking of the divine will in his life. On March 1, 1898, shortly before his death, he wrote, “For about 21 months with scarcely the least intermission the trial of our faith and patience has continued. Now, today, the Lord has refreshed my heart.” The occasion of this blessing was receiving a legacy for approximately $7,500.
Mr. Muller had learned the simple lesson that however great the affliction, God in His kind providence would not forsake him — provided he remained steadfast in faith and relied greatly upon secret prayer.
The key to his spiritual victories, whatever the nature of the soul depression, is found in an entry on June 25, 1835. He says, “These last three days I have had very little real communion with God, and have therefore been very weak spiritually, and have several times felt irritability of temper.” The following day he wrote, “I was enabled, by the grace of God, to rise early, and I had nearly two hours in prayer before breakfast. I now feel this morning more comfortable.”
It was prayer that swept his soul free of doubt, distemper and the aftereffects of a trial by the incoming tide of peace. For this reason he could make such remarks as this entry on March 9, 1847, “The greater the difficulties, the easier for faith.” And a later one, “The greater the trial, the sweeter the victory.”
Mr. Muller decried any evidence of having the gift of faith. He had faith, as any Christian may have it, but not that peculiar gift of which Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 12:9.
“Think not, dear reader,” he writes, “that I have the gift of faith...which is mentioned along with ‘the gifts of healing,’ ‘the working of miracles’...and that on that account I am able to trust in God...If I were only one moment left by myself my faith would utterly fail...It is not true that my faith is that gift of faith...It is the self-same faith which is found in every believer...for little by little it has been increasing for the last six and twenty years.”
In charting the results of this marvelous life of trust, the speed with which he obtained multiplied thousands of answers to his prayers, we must be careful not to remove Mr. Muller from the realm of the thoroughly human. He is anxious to have his readers think of him in the same light as they do of themselves. He possessed no character traits nor divine possessions, not within the reach of every believer.
The trials which blocked his spiritual advancement were those common to every Christian. The human tempers, the frailties of his body, mind and spirit were those which mark true members of God’s kingdom. His victories came through prayer, trust in the Lord’s unfailing promises and faith that God’s truth could not fail; and if he thus achieved, he would have us also see that similar faith victories are within our reach.
There is only one route to soul repose...and that is the highway that leads to God’s throne, prayer.
“It is not enough to begin to pray,” he advises us, “nor to pray aright; nor is it enough to continue for a time to pray; but we must patiently, believingly continue in prayer, until we obtain an answer; and further, we have not only to continue in prayer unto the end, but we have also to believe that God does hear us and will answer our prayers. Most frequently we fail in not continuing in prayer until the blessing is obtained, and in not expecting the blessing.”
Taken from "George Muller - The Man of Faith" by Basil Miller