Before the perusal of this book is entered upon, it seems desirable that I should myself state to the reader, what led me to undertake these missionary tours. It may be well to refer also to the objects I had particularly in view in connection with them; to mention how far the desired result has been attained; and to notice a few other points relating to these journeys.
During many years the thought occurred to me again and again, that it might be the will of God I should seek to benefit His children and the unconverted, not through my publications only, but by ministering personally amongst them in other places besides Bristol; but my position as pastor of a large church, and as Director of a great Institution, which seemed to require my constant presence, for a long time put aside the thought. At last, however, when staying in the Isle of Wight in the autumn of 1874, finding that my preaching at Ventnor and Ryde had been unusually blessed and valued, I judged, that, having very efficient fellow labourers in the Church at Bristol, I could be spared, and that my absence would not be particularly felt. With reference to the work on Ashley Down, too, as Mr. Wright had for many years been an able helper in connection with it; as he had by that time been appointed Co-Director of the Institution; and as I had laboured in word and doctrine in Bristol (almost exclusively) for forty-three years; it was laid upon my heart to go from city to city, and from country to country, in order to benefit (if possible) both the Church of Christ and the world at large, by my ministry and experience. Accordingly, after much prayer and waiting upon God, I decided upon devoting a very considerable portion of my time habitually to this service, as long as health and strength should be continued to me.
The objects I have in view in undertaking these tours are the following:--
1. To preach the Gospel in the simplest way possible, that persons may understand how the blessing, which sinners receive through faith in Christ, is to be obtained. Many who are really in earnest about their salvation, are nevertheless without peace, because they rest upon their feelings. They do not see that every one, who is convinced that he is a lost sinner by nature, and confesses this before God, passes sentence upon himself (so to speak), that, if he depends solely on the perfect obedience of the Lord Jesus unto death, even the death on the cross and upon His substitutional sacrifice, he receives the forgiveness of all his sins, is justified the moment he believes in Jesus and shall not perish, but have everlasting life. Rom. v. 1; Acts x. 43; John iii. 16.
2. During my pastoral labours for many years I found, that numbers of true children of God are without the knowledge of their standing in Christ. They do not enter into the fact, that they have passed from death unto life, that they are regenerated, pardoned, justified, accepted in the Beloved, and are no longer under condemnation. Now, having entered into all this experimentally for more than half a century myself, I desire (with the help of God) to bring others also to an apprehension of these blessings; and how greatly this service is needed, is obvious from the fact, that there are great numbers of preachers of the Gospel and pastors, who, being without the knowledge of their own personal salvation, are, in consequence, entirely destitute of any real peace and joy in the Lord.
3. Another object I aim at is, to bring Christians back to the Holy Scriptures; to urge them to try everything by the word of God, and to value that only, which will stand this test. I endeavour therefore, to lead believers to become lovers of the Bible, by exhorting them to a daily, systematic, consecutive reading and study of it; for I know from an experience of more than half a century the blessedness of doing this myself, and also, what loss I experienced during the first three years after my conversion, from not attending to it.
4. Further, I aim at a removal of sectarianism, at promoting brotherly love amongst true Christians; and with this object in view go amongst all real believers, by whatever name they are called, provided they are sound in the foundation truths of our holy faith. Though not agreeing at all, with some of their opinions and practices, I nevertheless preach amongst all, having seen for many years how greatly the heart of the Lord Jesus must be grieved by the disunion that exists among His own true disciples. On this account, therefore, I have sought (in my feeble measure) to unite all real believers; but, as this cannot be done, by standing aloof from our brethren in Christ, until they see eye to eye with us, in every point, I have gone amongst them, and have united with them, in so far as nothing has been required of me which I could not do with a good conscience.
5. As for more than half a century I have seen how very little real trust in the Living God there is (generally speaking), even amongst true Christians, I have sought also in these my missionary tours, particularly, to strengthen their faith; because, in the course of my pastoral labours, the blessed results of real confidence in God on the one hand have come to my knowledge, and the misery of distrusting Him also on the other.
6. Both in my public ministry of the Word, and private intercourse with Christians, I seek to lead my fellow disciples to more real separation from the world and deadness to it, and to promote heavenly mindedness in them, according to the Scriptures. At the same time, however, I warn them against extravagances (such as sinless perfection in the flesh), which are not to be found in the Word of God.
7. As the Lord enables me, I give instruction also about the true character of the present dispensation and the end thereof, and strive to lead the Church of Christ to look for His second coming as her great hope.
In these nine long missionary tours, I have gladly embraced every opportunity also of having meetings with ministers and pastors of Churches, both for the sake of encouraging them in their service, and that I might benefit them through my own experience of fifty-seven years in the ministry of the Word. I have availed myself too of every opportunity of addressing students in Universities, Theological Seminaries, and Colleges, and have had opportunities likewise of addressing 1,000 or 1,500 Christian workers at a time, and of seeking to benefit them by my experience. This kind of work I have now been able to do in twenty-two different countries; for after having spent a considerable time in such labour in England, Scotland, and Ireland, I was led in the providence of God to Switzerland, Germany, Holland, France, Spain, Italy, Canada, the United States, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor, Turkey, Greece, Austria, Hungary, Bohemia, Russia, and Russian Poland.
The reader may now be desirous of asking—"And what has been the result of all this service?" My reply is—The day of the Lord alone will reveal it. Here on earth but little can be known, comparatively, of the fruit of our labours; yet, as far as I have been permitted to see, even here, there is good reason to believe, that I have not been directed to one single place, regarding which there was not manifest proof, that the Lord sent me there, on account of the visible blessing which rested on my labours.
It may be desirable also to state, why an account of these missionary tours has been published in this form, as several of these journeys have already been referred to in the Reports of the Scriptural Knowledge Institution. The reason is, that, in the Reports a very brief account only of them has been given, and that always in detached portions. Now, as my dear wife has invariably accompanied me in my travels, during the past eight years, and has kept a journal regularly of my labours for the Lord, we judged that a connected and much fuller account of them might be given in a book, than could be published in any other manner. Through a perusal of this Narrative it is hoped also that Christians may be led to give themselves to prayer for blessing on this my past service, and that God may help me in any future labours, to which, in His providence, I may yet be called. We considered likewise, that, in this way, Christians may be led to give themselves to prayer for the countries, in which I have been labouring; and, lastly, that, with God's blessing, other aged and experienced brethren and pastors may be led to devote the evening of their life to similar service. God has been pleased within the last thirty-five years to raise up thousands for evangelistic work; but, it is well known, that there are comparatively very few who labour amongst the churches, and can bring the experience of a long life in the service of the Lord to bear upon the assemblies of Christians whom they visit. If, through the reading of this book, God should be pleased to incline the hearts of aged, experienced, and very godly servants of Christ, to devote their declining years to the visiting of Churches, both my dear wife and myself shall consider ourselves abundantly recompensed for our attempt to serve Him by publishing this Narrative. Hundreds of times, both separately and unitedly, we have besought our Heavenly Father to bless this labour for Him, and we are sure that He will graciously answer our request.
It now remains only, that I say a few words regarding the photograph, which is given in this book.
During the last thirty years I have been asked many hundreds of times, both verbally and in writing, for my likeness; but my reply has invariably been: "As I do not wish to direct attention to myself, but to my Lord and Master, I must decline to comply with your request." Notwithstanding this, however, applications for my portrait have been continued, and are still made more than ever. Twenty years ago I was offered £500, if I would allow it to be published; but the offer was declined for the reasons already given. Since we have been travelling about, in almost every town or city, where I have laboured (with very rare exception) this request has been renewed; and very often has been made by many residing in the same place. Again and again photographers (brethren in Christ) have called and begged me to let them take my likeness, because so many friends desired to possess it. Whilst at St. Petersburg, a Christian gentleman came to see me (who, together with his wife, after a state of long spiritual deadness, had been revived in soul through my ministry), and on taking leave of me, with the probability that we should never meet again on earth, begged earnestly for my photograph; but I gave the answer, which has always been given under such circumstances. As recently as during my last stay in London, I received a letter from a photographer, stating that a servant of Christ, who was going to publish the photographs of certain well known pastors and teachers, desired particularly to include mine amongst the rest; but his application succeeded no better than others of the same kind have done. This very day on which I am now writing, another request for my photograph has been made to me by letter, and many hundreds of times have I thus been entreated for my likeness, but in vain.
And what has been the result of all this? In consequence of my steadfast refusal to be photographed, several representations of me (for likenesses they cannot be called, as I never sat for one of them) have been published, without my knowledge and against my will. A religious periodical, extensively circulated in America, containing one of these portraits, has gone all through the United States. An enterprising photographer tried once to secure my likeness too, by an instantaneous process, as I was driving in an open carriage up a hill, but was foiled in the attempt. A portrait of George Müller also, with a most doleful expression of countenance (conveying not the slightest idea of the happy man he really is), has been going the round, and occasionally has come before me, even in the houses of my best friends. In the fear of God, therefore, I have come to this conclusion: Since the public insist upon having a portrait of me (whether I like to give it or whether I do not), let my beloved Christian friends at least have a photograph that is a real and not a false representation of their unworthy brother in Christ; and especially, let it be one with a pleasant, cheerful expression of countenance, that will glorify and not dishonour the Lord I love; for our very faces even should show forth His praise.
And now in conclusion, I have one earnest request to make, which is this: that (after yielding to the desire for my likeness so very long expressed, and having had it published) my friends will have the great kindness to refrain from applying either to me or to any of my helpers at the Orphan Houses for it, under the supposition that the photograph can be obtained in the form of a "carte-de-visite." As it has not been published separately from this book, it cannot possibly be had in any other form than is given here. One especial reason I had for inserting it in the book, and for not allowing it to be published separately, was, that as the amount of work we have at the Orphan Houses is already very great, I earnestly desire that it may not be increased by our having to respond to continual applications by letter for my photograph, which in all probability would be made, if the likeness could be obtained separately. I am sure, however, that nothing further need be said on the subject, as all my dear Christian friends, who really love and esteem me, will at once see how reasonable and important my request is.
New Orphan Houses,
Ashley Down, Bristol.