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VERY soon after the decease of my beloved father-in-law I began to receive letters pressing upon me the desirableness of issuing as soon as possible a memoir of him and his work.
The well-known autobiography, entitled “Narrative of the Lord’s Dealings with George Müller,” had been, and was still being, so greatly used by God in the edification of believers and the conversion of unbelievers that I hesitated to countenance any attempt to supersede or even supplement it. But as, with prayer, I reflected upon the subject, several considerations impressed me:
1st. The last volume of the Narrative ends with the year 1885, so that there is no record of the last thirteen years of Mr. Müller’s life excepting what is contained in the yearly reports of “The Scriptural Knowledge Institution.”
2d. The last three volumes of the Narrative, being mainly a condensation of the yearly reports during the period embraced in them, contain much unavoidable repetition.
3d. A book of, say, four hundred and fifty pages, containing the substance of the four volumes of the Narrative, and carrying on the history to the date of the decease of the founder of the institution, would meet the desire of a large class of readers.
4th. Several brief sketches of Mr. Müller’s career had issued from the press within a few days after the funeral; and one (written by Mr. F. Warne and published by W. F. Mack & Co., Bristol), a very accurate and truly appreciative sketch, had had a large circulation; but I was convinced by the letters that reached me that a more comprehensive memoir was called for, and would be produced, so I was led especially to pray for guidance that such a book might be entrusted to the author fitted by God to undertake it. While waiting for the answer to this definite petition, though greatly urged by publishers to proceed, I steadily declined to take any step until I had clearer light. Moreover, I was, personally, occupied during May and June in preparing the Annual Report of “The Scriptural Knowledge Institution,” and could not give proper attention to the other matter.
Just then I learned from Dr. Arthur T. Pierson, of Brooklyn, N. Y., that he had been led to undertake the production of a memoir of Mr. Müller for American readers, and requesting my aid by furnishing him with some materials needed for the work.Having complied with this request I was favoured by Dr. Pierson with a syllabus of the method and contents of his intended work.
The more I thought upon the subject the more satisfied I became that no one could be found more fitted to undertake the work which had been called for on this side of the Atlantic also than this my wellknown and beloved friend.
He had had exceptional opportunities twenty years ago in the United States, and in later years when visiting Great Britain, for becoming intimately acquainted with Mr. Müller, with the principles on which the Orphanage and other branches of “The Scriptural Knowledge Institution” were carried on, and with many details of their working. I knew that Dr. Pierson most thoroughly sympathized with these principles as being according to the mind of God revealed in His word; and that he could, therefore, present not merely the history of the external facts and results of Mr. Müller’s life and labours, but could and would, by God’s help, unfold, with the ardour and force of conviction, the secret springs of that life and of those labours.
I therefore intimated to my dear friend that, provided he would allow me to read the manuscript and have thus the opportunity of making any suggestions that I felt necessary, I would, as my beloved father-in-law’s executor and representative, gladly endorse his work as the authorized memoir for British as well as American readers. To this Dr. Pierson readily assented; and now, after carefully going through the whole, I confidently recommend the book to esteemed readers on both sides of the Atlantic, with the earnest prayer that the result, in relation to the subject of this memoir, may be identical with that produced by the account of the Apostle Paul’s “manner of life” upon the churches of Judea which were in Christ (Gal. i. 24), viz.,”They glorified GOD” in him. JAMES WRIGHT. 13 CHARLOTTE STREET, PARK STREET, BRISTOL, ENG., March, 1899. A Prefatory Word
DR. OLIVER W. HOLMES wittily said that an autobiography is what every biography ought to be. The four volumes of “The Narrative of the Lord’s Dealings with George Müller,” already issued from the press and written by his own hand, with a fifth volume covering his missionary tours, and prepared by his wife, supplemented by the Annual Reports since published, constitute essentially an autobiography—Mr. Müller’s own life-story, stamped with his own peculiar individuality, and singularly and minutely complete. To those who wish the simple journal of his life with the details of his history, these printed documents make any other sketch of him from other hands so far unnecessary.
There are, however, two considerations which have mainly prompted the preparation of this brief memoir: first, that the facts of this remarkable life might be set forth not so much with reference to the chronological order of their occurrence, as events, as for the sake of the lessons in living which they furnish, illustrating and enforcing grand spiritual principles and precepts: and secondly, because no man so humble as he would ever write of himself what, after his departure, another might properly write of him that others might glorify God in him.
No one could have undertaken this work of writing Mr. Müller’s lifestory without being deeply impressed with the opportunity thus afforded for impressing the most vital truths that concern holy living and holy serving; nor could any one have completed such a work without feeling overawed by the argument which this narrative furnishes for a present, living, prayer-hearing God, and for a possible and practical daily walk with Him and work with Him. It has been a great help in the preparation of this book that the writer has had such frequent converse with Mr. James Wright, who was so long Mr. Müller’s associate and knew him so intimately.
So prominent was the word of God as a power in Mr. Müller’s life that, in an appendix, we have given peculiar emphasis to the great leading texts of Scripture which inspired and guided his faith and conduct, and, so far as possible, in the order in which such texts became practically influential in his life; and so many wise and invaluable counsels are to be found scattered throughout his journal that some of the most striking and helpful have been selected, which may also be found in the appendix.
This volume has, like the life it sketches, but one aim. It is simply and solely meant to extend, emphasize, and perpetuate George Müller’s witness to a prayer-hearing God; to present, as plainly, forcibly, and briefly as is practicable, the outlines of a human history, and an experience of the Lord’s leadings and dealings, which furnish a sufficient answer to the question:WHERE IS THE LORD GOD OF ELIJAH? CHAPTER I FROM HIS BIRTH TO HIS NEW BIRTH A HUMAN life, filled with the presence and power of God, is one of God’s choicest gifts to His church and to the world.
Things which are unseen and eternal seem, to the carnal man, distant and indistinct, while what is seen and temporal is vivid and real. Practically, any object in nature that can be seen or felt is thus more real and actual to most men than the Living God. Every man who walks with God, and finds Him a present Help in every time of need; who puts His promises to the practical proof and verifies them in actual experience; every believer who with the key of faith unlocks God’s mysteries, and with the key of prayer unlocks God’s treasuries, thus furnishes to the race a demonstration and an illustration of the fact that “He is, and is a Rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.”
George Müller was such an argument and example incarnated in human flesh. Here was a man of like passions as we are and tempted in all points like as we are, but who believed God and was established by believing; who prayed earnestly that he might live a life and do a work which should be a convincing proof that God hears prayer and that it is safe to trust Him at all times; and who has furnished just such a witness as he desired. Like Enoch, he truly walked with God, and had abundant testimony borne to him that he pleased God. And when, on the tenth day of March, 1898, it was told us of George Müller that “he was not,” we knew that “God had taken him”: it seemed more like a translation than like death.
To those who are familiar with his long life-story, and, most of all, to those who intimately knew him and felt the power of personal contact with him, he was one of God’s ripest saints and himself a living proof that a life of faith is possible; that God may be known, communed with, found, and may become a conscious companion in the daily life. George Müller proved for himself and for all others who will receive his witness that, to those who are willing to take God at His word and to yield self to His will, He is “the same yesterday and to-day and forever”: that the days of divine intervention and deliverance are past only to those with whom the days of faith and obedience are past—in a word, that believing prayer works still the wonders which our fathers told of in the days of old.
The life of this man may best be studied, perhaps, by dividing it into certain marked periods, into which it naturally falls, when we look at those leading events and experiences which are like punctuationmarks or paragraph divisions,—as, for example:1. From his birth to his new birth or conversion: 1805-1825. 2. From his conversion to full entrance on his life-work: 1825-35. 3. From this point to the period of his mission tours: 1835-75. 4. From the beginning to the close of these tours: 1875-92. 5. From the close of his tours to his death: 1892-98.
Thus the first period would cover twenty years; the second, ten; the third, forty; the fourth, seventeen; and the last, six. However thus unequal in length, each forms a sort of epoch, marked by certain conspicuous and characteristic features which serve to distinguish it and make its lessons peculiarly important and memorable. For example, the first period is that of the lost days of sin, in which the great lesson taught is the bitterness and worthlessness of a disobedient life. In the second period may be traced the remarkable steps of preparation for the great work of his life. The third period embraces the actual working out of the divine mission committed to him. Then for seventeen or eighteen years we find him bearing in all parts of the earth his world-wide witness to God; and the last six years were used of God in mellowing and maturing his Christian character. During these years he was left in peculiar loneliness, yet this only made him lean more on the divine companionship, and it was noticeable with those who were brought into most intimate contact with him that he was more than ever before heavenlyminded, and the beauty of the Lord his God was upon him.
The first period may be passed rapidly by, for it covers only the wasted years of a sinful and profligate youth and early manhood. It is of interest mainly as illustrating the sovereignty of that Grace which abounds even to the chief of sinners. Who can read the story of that score of years and yet talk of piety as the product of evolution? In his case, instead of evolution, there was rather a revolution, as marked and complete as ever was found, perhaps, in the annals of salvation. If Lord George Lyttelton could account for the conversion of Saul of Tarsus only by supernatural power, what would he have thought of George Müller’s transformation! Saul had in his favor a conscience, however misguided, and a morality, however pharisaic. George Müller was a flagrant sinner against common honesty and decency, and his whole early career was a revolt, not against God only, but against his own moral sense. If Saul was a hardened transgressor, how callous must have been George Müller!
He was a native of Prussia, born at Kroppenstaedt, near Halberstadt, September 27, 1805. Less than five years later his parents removed to Heimersleben, some four miles off, where his father was made collector of the excise, again removing about eleven years later to Schoenebeck, near Magdeburg, where he had obtained another appointment.
George Müller had no proper parental training. His father’s favoritism toward him was harmful both to himself and to his brother, as in the family of Jacob, tending to jealousy and estrangement. Money was put too freely into the hands of these boys, hoping that they might learn how to use it and save it; but the result was, rather, careless and vicious waste, for it became the source of many childish sins of indulgence. Worse still, when called upon to render any account of their stewardship, sins of lying and deception were used to cloak wasteful spending. Young George systematically deceived his father, either by false entries of what he had received, or by false statements of what he had spent or had on hand. When his tricks were found out, the punishment which followed led to no reformation, the only effect being more ingenious devices of trickery and fraud. Like the Spartan lad, George Müller reckoned it no fault to steal, but only to have his theft found out.
His own brief account of his boyhood shows a very bad boy and he attempts no disguise. Before he was ten years old he was a habitual thief and an expert at cheating; even government funds, entrusted to his father, were not safe from his hands. Suspicion led to the laying of a snare into which he fell: a sum of money was carefully counted and put where he would find it and have a chance to steal it. He took it and hid it under his foot in his shoe, but, he being searched and the money being found, it became clear to whom the various sums previously missing might be traced.
His father wished him educated for a clergyman, and before he was eleven he was sent to the cathedral classical school at Halberstadt to be fitted for the university. That such a lad should be deliberately set apart for such a sacred office and calling, by a father who knew his moral obliquities and offences, seems incredible—but, where a state church exists, the ministry of the Gospel is apt to be treated as a human profession rather than as a divine vocation, and so the standards of fitness often sink to the low secular level, and the main object in view becomes the so-called “living,” which is, alas, too frequently independent of holy living.
From this time the lad’s studies were mixed up with novel-reading and various vicious indulgences. Card-playing and even strong drink got hold of him. The night when his mother lay dying, her boy of fourteen was reeling through the streets, drunk; and even her death failed to arrest his wicked course or to arouse his sleeping conscience. And—as must always be the case when such solemn reminders make one no better—he only grew worse.
When he came to the age for confirmation He had to attend the class for preparatory religious teaching; but this being to him a mere form, and met in a careless spirit, another false step was taken: sacred things were treated as common, and so conscience became the more callous. On the very eve of confirmation and of his first approach to the Lord’s Table he was guilty of gross sins; and on the day previous, when he met the clergyman for the customary “confession of sin,” he planned and practised another shameless fraud, withholding from him eleven-twelfths of the confirmation fee entrusted to him by his father!
In such frames of mind and with such habits of life George Müller, in the Easter season of 1820, was confirmed and became a communicant. Confirmed, indeed! but in sin, not only immoral and unregenerate, but so ignorant of the very rudiments of the Gospel of Christ that he could not have stated to an inquiring soul the simple terms of the plan of salvation. There was, it is true about such serious and sacred transactions, a vague solemnity which left a transient impression and led to shallow resolves to live a better life; but there was no real sense of sin or of repentance toward God, nor was there any dependence upon a higher strength: and, without these, efforts at self-amendment never prove of value or work lasting results.
The story of this wicked boyhood presents but little variety, except that of sin and crime. It is one long tale of evil-doing and of the sorrow which it brings. Once, when his money was all recklessly wasted, hunger drove him to steal a bit of coarse bread from a soldier who was a fellow lodger; and looking back, long afterward, to that hour of extremity, he exclaimed, “What a bitter thing is the service of Satan, even in this world!”
On his father’s removal to Schoenebeck in 1821 he asked to be sent to the cathedral school at Magdeburg, inwardly hoping thus to break away from his sinful snares and vicious companions, and, amid new scenes, find help in self-reform. He was not, therefore, without at least occasional aspirations after moral improvement; but again he made the common and fatal mistake of overlooking the Source of all true betterment. “God was not in all his thoughts.” He found that to leave one place for another was not to leave his sin behind, for he took himself along. His father, with a strange fatuity, left him to superintend sundry alterations in his house at Heimersleben, arranging for him meanwhile to read classics with the resident clergyman, Rev. Dr. Nagel. Being thus for a time his own master, temptation opened wide doors before him. He was allowed to collect dues from his father’s debtors, and again he resorted to fraud, spending large sums of this money and concealing the fact that it had been paid.
In November, 1821, he went to Magdeburg and to Brunswick, to which latter place he was drawn by his passion for a young Roman Catholic girl, whom he had met there soon after confirmation. In this absence from home he took one step after another in the path of wicked indulgence. First of all, by lying to his tutor he got his consent to his going; then came a week of sin at Magdeburg and a wasting of his father’s means at a costly hotel in Brunswick. His money being gone, he went to the house of an uncle until he was sent away; then, at another expensive hotel, he ran up bills until, payment being demanded, he had to leave his best clothes as a security, barely escaping arrest. Then, at Wolfenbuttel, he tried the same bold scheme again, until, having nothing for deposit, he ran off, but this time was caught and sent to jail. This boy of sixteen was already a liar and thief, swindler and drunkard, accomplished only in crime, a companion of convicted felons and himself in a felon’s cell. This cell, a few days later, a thief shared: and these two held converse as fellow thieves, relating their adventures to one another, and young Müller, that he might not be outdone, invented lying tales of villainy to make himself out the more famous fellow of the two!
Ten or twelve days passed in this wretched fellowship, until disagreement led to a sullen silence between them. And so passed away twenty-four dark days, from December 18, 1821, until the 12th of January ensuing, during all of which George Müller was shut up in prison and during part of which he sought as a favour the company of a thief.
His father learned of his disgrace and sent money to meet his hotel dues and other “costs” and pay for his return home. Yet such was his persistent wickedness that, going from a convict’s cell to confront his outraged but indulgent parent, he chose as his companion in travel an avowedly wicked man.
He was severely chastised by his father and felt that he must make some effort to reinstate himself in his favour. He therefore studied hard and took pupils in arithmetic and German, French and Latin. This outward reform so pleased his father that he shortly forgot as well as forgave his evil-doing; but again it was only the outside of the cup and platter that was made clean: the secret heart was still desperately wicked and the whole life, as God saw it, was an abomination.
George Müller now began to forge what he afterward called “a whole chain of lies.” When his father would no longer consent to his staying at home, he left, ostensibly for Halle, the university town, to be examined, but really for Nordhausen to seek entrance into the gymnasium. He avoided Halle because he dreaded its severe discipline, and foresaw that restraint would be doubly irksome when constantly meeting young fellows of his acquaintance who, as students in the university, would have much more freedom than himself. On returning home he tried to conceal this fraud from his father; but just before he was to leave again for Nordhausen the truth became known, which made needful new links in that chain of lies to account for his systematic disobedience and deception. His father, though angry, permitted him to go to Nordhausen, where he remained from October, 1822, till Easter, 1825.
During these two and a half years he studied classics, French, history, etc., living with the director of the gymnasium. His conduct so improved that he rose in favour and was pointed to as an example for the other lads, and permitted to accompany the master in his walks, to converse with him in Latin. At this time he was a hard student, rising at four A.M. the year through, and applying himself to his books till ten at night.
Nevertheless, by his own confession, behind all this formal propriety there lay secret sin and utter alienation from God. His vices induced an illness which for thirteen weeks kept him in his room. He was not without a religious bent, which led to the reading of such books as Klopstock’s works, but he neither cared for God’s word, nor had he any compunction for trampling upon God’s law. In his library, now numbering about three hundred books, no Bible was found. Cicero and Horace, Moliere and Voltaire, he knew and valued, but of the Holy Scriptures he was grossly ignorant, and as indifferent to them as he was ignorant of them. Twice a year, according to prevailing custom, he went to the Lord’s Supper, like others who had passed the age of confirmation, and he could not at such seasons quite avoid religious impressions. When the consecrated bread and wine touched his lips he would sometimes take an oath to reform, and for a few days refrain from some open sins; but there was no spiritual life to act as a force within, and his vows were forgotten almost as soon as made. The old Satan was too strong for the young Müller, and, when the mighty passions of his evil nature were roused, his resolves and endeavours were as powerless to hold him as were the new cords which bound Samson, to restrain him, when he awoke from his slumber.
It is hard to believe that this young man of twenty could lie without a blush and with the air of perfect candor. When dissipation dragged him into the mire of debt, and his allowance would not help him out, he resorted again to the most ingenious devices of falsehood. He pretended that the money wasted in riotous living had been stolen by violence, and, to carry out the deception he studied the part of an actor. Forcing the locks of his trunk and guitar-case, he ran into the director’s room half dressed and feigning fright, declaring that he was the victim of a robbery, and excited such pity that friends made up a purse to cover his supposed losses. Suspicion was, however, awakened that he had been playing a false part, and he never regained the master’s confidence; and though he had even then no sense of sin, shame at being detected in such meanness and hypocrisy made him shrink from ever again facing the director’s wife, who, in his long sickness, had nursed him like a mother.
Such was the man who was not only admitted to honourable standing as a university student, but accepted as a candidate for holy orders, with permission to preach in the Lutheran establishment. This student of divinity knew nothing of God or salvation, and was ignorant even of the gospel plan of saving grace. He felt the need for a better life, but no godly motives swayed him. Reformation was a matter purely of expediency: to continue in profligacy would bring final exposure, and no parish would have him as a pastor. To get a valuable “cure” and a good “living” he must make attainments in divinity, pass a good examination, and have at least a decent reputation. Worldly policy urged him to apply himself on the one hand to his studies and on the other to self-reform.
Again he met defeat, for he had never yet found the one source and secret of all strength. Scarce had he entered Halle before his resolves proved frail as a spider’s web, unable to restrain him from vicious indulgences. He refrained indeed from street brawls and duelling, because they would curtail his liberty, but he knew as yet no moral restraints. His money was soon spent, and he borrowed till he could find no one to lend, and then pawned his watch and clothes.
He could not but be wretched, for it was plain to what a goal of poverty and misery, dishonour and disgrace, such paths lead. Policy loudly urged him to abandon his evil-doing, but piety had as yet no voice in his life. He went so far, however, as to choose for a friend a young man and former schoolmate, named Beta, whose quiet seriousness might, as he hoped, steady his own course. But he was leaning on a broken reed, for Beta was himself a backslider. Again he was taken ill. God made him to “possess the iniquities of his youth.” After some weeks he was better, and once more his conduct took on the semblance of improvement.
The true mainspring of all well-regulated lives was still lacking, and sin soon broke out in unholy indulgence. George Müller was an adept at the ingenuity of vice. What he had left he pawned to get money, and with Beta and two others went on a four days’ pleasuredrive, and then planned a longer tour in the Alps. Barriers were in the way, for both money and passports were lacking; but fertility of invention swept all such barriers away. Forged letters, purporting to be from their parents, brought passports for the party, and books, put in pawn, secured money. Forty-three days were spent in travel, mostly afoot; and during this tour George Müller, holding, like Judas, the common purse, proved, like him, a thief, for he managed to make his companions pay one third of his own expenses.
The party were back in Halle before the end of September, and George Müller went home to spend the rest of his vacation. To account plausibly to his father for the use of his allowance a new chain of lies was readily devised. So soon and so sadly were all his good resolves again broken.
When once more in Halle, he little knew that the time had come when he was to become a new man in Christ Jesus. He was to find God, and that discovery was to turn into a new channel the whole current of his life. The sin and misery of these twenty years would not have been reluctantly chronicled but to make the more clear that his conversion was a supernatural work, inexplicable without God. There was certainly nothing in himself to ‘evolve’ such a result, nor was there anything in his ‘environment.’ In that university town there were no natural forces that could bring about a revolution in character and conduct such as he experienced. Twelve hundred and sixty students were there gathered, and nine hundred of them were divinity students, yet even of the latter number, though all were permitted to preach, not one hundredth part, he says, actually “feared the Lord.” Formalism displaced pure and undefiled religion, and with many of them immorality and infidelity were cloaked behind a profession of piety. Surely such a man, with such surroundings, could undergo no radical change of character and life without the intervention of some mighty power from without and from above! What this force was, and how it wrought upon him and in him, we are now to see. CHAPTER IITHE NEW BIRTH AND THE NEW LIFE THE lost days of sin, now forever past, the days of heaven upon earth began to dawn, to grow brighter till the perfect day.
We enter the second period of this life we are reviewing. After a score of years of evil-doing George Müller was converted to God, and the radical nature of the change strikingly proves and displays the sovereignty of Almighty Grace. He had been kept amid scenes of outrageous and flagrant sin, and brought through many perils, as well as two serious illnesses, because divine purposes of mercy were to be fulfilled in him. No other explanation can adequately account for the facts.
Let those who would explain such a conversion without taking God into account remember that it was at a time when this young sinner was as careless as ever; when he had not for years read the Bible or had a copy of it in his possession; when he had seldom gone to a service of worship, and had never yet even heard one gospel sermon; when he had never been told by any believer what it is to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and to live by God’s help and according to His Word; when, in fact, he had no conception of the first principles of the doctrine of Christ, and knew not the real nature of a holy life, but thought all others to be as himself, except in the degree of depravity and iniquity. This young man had thus grown to manhood without having learned that rudimental truth that sinners and saints differ not in degree but in kind; that if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation; yet the hard heart of such a man, at such a time and in such conditions, was so wrought upon by the Holy Spirit that he suddenly found entrance into a new sphere of life, with new adaptations to its new atmosphere.
The divine Hand in this history is doubly plain when, as we now look back, we see that this was also the period of preparation for his life-work—a preparation the more mysterious because he had as yet no conception or forecast of that work. During the next ten years we shall watch the divine Potter, to Whom George Müller was a chosen vessel for service, moulding and fitting the vessel for His use. Every step is one of preparation, but can be understood only in the light which that future casts backward over the unique ministry to the church and the world, to which this new convert was all unconsciously separated by God and was to become so peculiarly consecrated.
One Saturday afternoon about the middle of November, 1825, Beta said to Müller, as they were returning from a walk, that he was going that evening to a meeting at a believer’s house, where he was wont to go on Saturdays, and where a few friends met to sing, to pray, and to read the word of God and a printed sermon. Such a programme held out nothing fitted to draw a man of the world who sought his daily gratifications at the card-table and in the wine-cup, the dance and the drama, and whose companionships were found in dissipated young fellows; and yet George Müller felt at once a wish to go to this meeting, though he could not have told why. There was no doubt a conscious void within him never yet filled, and some instinctive inner voice whispered that he might there find food for his soul-hunger—a satisfying something after which he had all his life been unconsciously and blindly groping. He expressed the desire to go, which his friend hesitated to encourage lest such a gay and reckless devotee of vicious pleasures might feel ill at ease in such an assembly. However, he called for young Müller and took him to the meeting.
During his wanderings as a backslider, Beta had both joined and aided George Müller in his evil courses, but, on coming back from the Swiss tour, his sense of sin had so revived as to constrain him to make a full confession to his father; and, through a Christian friend, one Dr. Richter, a former student at Halle, he had been made acquainted with the Mr. Wagner at whose dwelling the meetings were held. The two young men therefore went together, and the former backslider was used of God to “convert a sinner from the error of his way and save a soul from death and hide a multitude of sins.” That Saturday evening was the turning-point in George Müller’s history and destiny. He found himself in strange company, amid novel surroundings, and breathing a new atmosphere. His awkwardness made him feel so uncertain of his welcome that he made some apology for being there. But he never forgot brother Wagner’s gracious answer: “Come as often as you please! house and heart are open to you.” He little knew then what he afterward learned from blessed experience, what joy fills and thrills the hearts of praying saints when an evil-doer turns his feet, however timidly, toward a place of prayer!
All present sat down and sang a hymn. Then a brother—who afterward went to Africa under the London Missionary Society—fell on his knees and prayed for God’s blessing on the meeting. That kneeling before God in prayer made upon Müller an impression never lost. He was in his twenty-first year, and yet he had never before seen any one on his knees praying, and of course had never himself knelt before God,—the Prussian habit being to stand in public prayer.
A chapter was read from the word of God, and—all meetings where the Scriptures were expounded, unless by an ordained clergyman, being under the ban as irregular—a printed sermon was read. When, after another hymn, the master of the house prayed, George Müller was inwardly saying: “I am much more learned than this illiterate man, but I could not pray as well as he.” Strange to say, a new joy was already springing up in his soul for which he could have given as little explanation as for his unaccountable desire to go to that meeting. But so it was; and on the way home he could not forbear saying to Beta: “All we saw on our journey to Switzerland, and all our former pleasures, are as nothing compared to this evening.”
Whether or not, on reaching his own room, he himself knelt to pray he could not recall, but he never forgot that a new and strange peace and rest somehow found him as he lay in bed that night. Was it God’s wings that folded over him, after all his vain flight away from the true nest where the divine Eagle flutters over His young? How sovereign are God’s ways of working! In such a sinner as Müller, theologians would have demanded a great ‘law work’ as the necessary doorway to a new life. Yet there was at this time as little deep conviction of guilt and condemnation as there was deep knowledge of God and of divine things, and perhaps it was because there was so little of the latter that there was so little of the former.
Our rigid theories of conversion all fail in view of such facts. We have heard of a little child who so simply trusted Christ for salvation that she could give no account of any ‘law work.’ And as one of the old examiners, who thought there could be no genuine conversion without a period of deep conviction, asked her, “But, my dear, how about the Slough of Despond?” she dropped a courtesy and said, “ Please, sir, I didn’t come that way!”
George Müller’s eyes were but half opened, as though he saw men as trees walking; but Christ had touched those eyes, He knew little of the great Healer, but somehow he had touched the hem of His garment of grace, and virtue came out of Him who wears that seamless robe, and who responds even to the faintest contact of the soul that is groping after salvation. And so we meet here another proof of the infinite variety of God’s working which, like the fact of that working, is so wonderful. That Saturday evening in November, 1825, was to this young student of Halle the parting of the ways. He had tasted that the Lord is gracious, though he himself could not account for the new relish for divine things which made it seem too long to wait a week for another meal; so that thrice before the Saturday following he sought the house of brother Wagner, there, with the help of brethren, to search the Scriptures.
We should lose one of the main lessons of this life-story by passing too hastily over such an event as this conversion and the exact manner of it, for here is to be found the first great step in God’s preparation of the workman for his work.
Nothing is more wonderful in history than the unmistakable signs and proofs of preadaptation. Our life-occurrences are not disjecta membra—scattered, disconnected, and accidental fragments. In God’s book all these events were written beforehand, when as yet there was nothing in existence but the plan in God’s mind—to be fashioned in continuance in actual history—as is perhaps suggested in Psalm cxxxix. 16 (margin).
We see stones and timbers brought to a building site—the stones from different quarries and the timbers from various shops—and different workmen have been busy upon them at times and places which forbade all conscious contact or cooperation. The conditions oppose all preconcerted action, and yet, without chipping or cutting, stone fits stone, and timber fits timber—tenons and mortises, and proportions and dimensions, all corresponding so that when the building is complete it is as perfectly proportioned and as accurately fitted as though it had been all prepared in one workshop and put together in advance as a test. In such circumstances no sane man would doubt that one presiding mind—one architect and master builder—had planned that structure, however many were the quarries and workshops and labourers.
And so it is with this life-story we are writing. The materials to be built into one structure of service were from a thousand sources and moulded into form by many hands, but there was a mutual fitness and a common adaptation to the end in view which prove that He whose mind and plan span the ages had a supreme purpose to which all human agents were unconsciously tributary. The awe of this vision of God’s workmanship will grow upon us as we look beneath and behind the mere human occurrences to see the divine Hand shaping and building together all these seemingly disconnected events and experiences into one life-work.
For example, what have we found to be the initial step and stage in George Müller’s spiritual history? In a little gathering of believers, where for the first time he saw a child of God pray on his knees, he found his first approach to a pardoning God. Let us observe: this man was henceforth to be singularly and peculiarly identified with simple scriptural assemblies of believers after the most primitive and apostolic pattern—meetings for prayer and praise, reading and expounding of the Word, such as doubtless were held at the house of Mary the mother of John Mark—assemblies mainly and primarily for believers, held wherever a place could be found, with no stress laid on consecrated buildings and with absolutely no secular or aesthetic attractions. Such assemblies were to be so linked with the whole life, work, and witness of George Müller as to be inseparable from his name, and it was in such an assembly that the night before he died he gave out his last hymn and offered his last prayer.
Not only so, but prayer, on the knees, both in secret and in such companionship of believers, was henceforth to be the one great central secret of his holy living and holy serving. Upon this corner-stone of prayer all his life-work was to be built. Of Sir Henry Lawrence the native soldiers during the Lucknow mutiny were wont to say that, “when he looked twice up to heaven, once down to earth, and then stroked his beard, he knew what to do.” And of George Müller it may well be said that he was to be, for more than seventy years, the man who conspicuously looked up to heaven to learn what he was to do. Prayer for direct divine guidance in every crisis, great or small, was to be the secret of his whole career. Is there any accident in the exact way in which he was first led to God, and in the precise character of the scenes which were thus stamped with such lasting interest and importance?
The thought of a divine plan which is thus emphasized at this point we are to see singularly illustrated as we mark how stone after stone and timber after timber are brought to the building site, and all so mutually fitted that no sound of any human tool is to be heard while the life-work is in building.
Of course a man that had been so profligate and prodigal must at least begin at conversion to live a changed life. Not that all at once the old sins were abandoned, for such total transformation demands deeper knowledge of the word and will of God than George Müller yet had. But within him a new separating and sanctifying Power was at work. There was a distaste for wicked joys and former companions; the frequenting of taverns entirely ceased, and a lying tongue felt new and strange bands about it. A watch was set at the door of the lips, and every word that went forth was liable to a challenge, so that old habits of untamed speech were arrested and corrected.
At this time he was translating into German for the press a French novel, hoping to use the proceeds of his work for a visit to Paris, etc. At first the plan for the pleasure-trip was abandoned, then the question arose whether the work itself should not be. Whether his convictions were not clear or his moral courage not sufficient, he went on with the novel. It was finished, but never published. Providential hindrances prevented or delayed the sale and publication of the manuscript until clearer spiritual vision showed him that the whole matter was not of faith and was therefore sin, so that he would neither sell nor print the novel, but burned it—another significant step, for it was his first courageous act of self-denial in surrender to the voice of the Spirit—and another stone or timber was thus ready for the coming building.
He now began in different directions a good fight against evil. Though as yet weak and often vanquished before temptation, he did not habitually ‘continue in sin,’ nor offend against God without godly sorrow. Open sins became less frequent and secret sins less ensnaring. He read the word of God, prayed often, loved fellow disciples, sought church assemblies from right motives, and boldly took his stand on the side of his new Master, at the cost of reproach and ridicule from his fellow students.George Müller’s next marked step in his new path was the discovery of the preciousness of the word of God.
At first he had a mere hint of the deep mines of wealth which he afterward explored. But his whole life-history so circles about certain great texts that whenever they come into this narrative they should appear in capitals to mark their prominence. And, of them all, that ‘little gospel’ in John iii. 16 is the first, for by it he found a full salvation: “GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD THAT HE GAVE HIS ONLYBEGOTTEN SON, THAT WHOSOEVER BELIEVETH IN HIM SHOULD NOT PERISH, BUT HAVE EVERLASTING LIFE.”
From these words he got his first glimpse of the philosophy of the plan of salvation—why and how the Lord Jesus Christ bore our sins in His own body on the tree as our vicarious Substitute and suffering Surety, and how His sufferings in Gethsemane and Golgotha made it forever needless that the penitent believing sinner should bear his own iniquity and die for it.
Truly to grasp this fact is the beginning of a true and saving faith— what the Spirit calls “laying hold.” He who believes and knows that God so loved him first, finds himself loving God in return, and faith works by love to purify the heart, transform the life, and overcome the world.
It was so with George Müller. He found in the word of God one great fact: the love of God in Christ. Upon that fact faith, not feeling, laid hold; and then the feeling came naturally without being waited for or sought after. The love of God in Christ constrained him to a love—infinitely unworthy, indeed, of that to which it responded, yet supplying a new impulse unknown before. What all his father’s injunctions, chastisements, entreaties, with all the urgent dictates of his own conscience, motives of expediency, and repeated resolves of amendment, utterly failed to effect, the love of God both impelled and enabled him to do—renounce a life of sinful self-indulgence. Thus early he learned that double truth, which he afterwards passionately loved to teach others, that in the blood of God’s atoning Lamb is the Fountain of both forgiveness and cleansing. Whether we seek pardon for sin or power over sin, the sole source and secret are in Christ’s work for us.
The new year 1826 was indeed a new year to this newborn soul. He now began to read missionary journals, which kindled a new flame in his heart. He felt a yearning—not very intelligent as yet—to be himself a messenger to the nations, and frequent praying deepened and confirmed the impression. As his knowledge of the world-field enlarged, new facts as to the destitution and the desolation of heathen peoples became as fuel to feed this flame of the mission spirit.
A carnal attachment, however, for a time almost quenched this fire of God within. He was drawn to a young woman of like age, a professed believer, whom he had met at the Saturday-evening meetings; but he had reason to think that her parents would not give her up to a missionary life, and he began, half-unconsciously, to weigh in the balance his yearning for service over against his passion for a fellow creature. Inclination, alas, outweighed duty. Prayer lost its power and for the time was almost discontinued, with corresponding decline in joy. His heart was turned from the foreign field, and in fact from all self-denying service. Six weeks passed in this state of spiritual declension, when God took a strange way to reclaim the backslider.
A young brother, Hermann Ball, wealthy, cultured, with every promising prospect for this world to attract him, made a great selfsacrifice. He chose Poland as a field, and work among the Jews as his mission, refusing to stay at home to rest in the soft nest of selfindulgent and luxurious ease. This choice made on young Müller a deep impression. He was compelled to contrast with it his own course. For the sake of a passionate love for a young woman he had given up the work to which he felt drawn of God, and had become both joyless and prayerless: another young man, with far more to draw him worldward, had, for the sake of a self-denying service among despised Polish Jews, resigned all the pleasures and treasures of the world. Hermann Ball was acting and choosing as Moses did in the crisis of his history, while he, George Müller, was acting and choosing more like that profane person Esau, when for one morsel of meat he bartered his birthright. The result was a new renunciation— he gave up the girl he loved, and forsook a connection which had been formed without faith and prayer and had proved a source of alienation from God.
Here we mark another new and significant step in preparation for his life-work—a decided step forward, which became a pattern for his after-life. For the second time a decision for God had cost him marked self-denial. Before, he had burned his novel; now, on the same altar, he gave up to the consuming fire a human passion which had over him an unhallowed influence. According to the measure of his light thus far, George Müller was fully, unreservedly given up to God, and therefore walking in the light. He did not have to wait long for the recompense of the reward, for the smile of God repaid him for the loss of a human love, and the peace of God was his because the God of peace was with him.
Every new spring of inward joy demands a channel for outflow, and so he felt impelled to bear witness. He wrote to his father and brother of his own happy experience, begging them to seek and find a like rest in God, thinking that they had but to know the path that leads to such joy to be equally eager to enter it. But an angry response was all the reply that his letter evoked.
About the same time the famous Dr. Tholuck took the chair of professor of divinity at Halle, and the advent of such a godly man to the faculty drew pious students from other schools of learning, and so enlarged George Müllers circle of fellow believers, who helped him much through grace. Of course the missionary spirit revived, and with such increased fervor, that he sought his father’s permission to connect himself with some missionary institution in Germany. His father was not only much displeased, but greatly disappointed, and dealt in reproaches very hard to bear. He reminded George of all the money he had spent on his education in the expectation that he would repay him by getting such a ‘living’ as would insure to the parent a comfortable home and support for his old age; and in a fit of rage he exclaimed that he would no longer look on him as a son.
Then, seeing that son unmoved in his quiet steadfastness, he changed tone, and from threats turned to tears of entreaty that were much harder to resist than reproaches. The result of the interview was a third significant step in preparation for his son’s life’s mission. His resolve was unbroken to follow the Lord’s leading at any cost, but he now clearly saw that he could be independent of man only by being more entirely dependent on God, and that henceforth he should take no more money from his father. To receive such support implied obedience to his wishes, for it seemed plainly wrong to look to him for the cost of his training when he had no prospect nor intention of meeting his known expectations. If he was to live on his father’s money, he was under a tacit obligation to carry out his plans and seek a good living as a clergyman at home. Thus early in life George Müller learned the valuable lesson that one must preserve his independence if he would not endanger his integrity.
God was leading His servant in his youth to cast himself upon Him for temporal supplies. This step was not taken without cost, for the two years yet to be spent at the university would require more outlay than during any time previous. But thus early also did he find God a faithful Provider and Friend in need. Shortly after, certain American gentlemen, three of whom were college professors,* being in Halle and wishing instruction in German, were by Dr. Tholuck recommended to employ George Müller as tutor; and the pay was so ample for the lessons taught them and the lectures written out for them, that all wants were more than met. Thus also in his early life was written large in the chambers of his memory another golden text from the word of God:”O FEAR THE LORD, YE HIS SAINTS! FOR THERE IS NO WANT TO THEM THAT FEAR HIM.” (Psalm xxxiv. 9.) * One of them, the Rev. Charles Hodge, afterward so well known as professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, etc. CHAPTER III MAKING READY THE CHOSEN VESSEL THE workman of God needs to wait on Him to know the work he is to do and the sphere where he is to serve Him.
Mature disciples at Halle advised George Müller for the time thus quietly to wait for divine guidance, and meanwhile to take no further steps toward the mission field. He felt unable, however, to dismiss the question, and was so impatient to settle it that he made the common blunder of attempting to come to a decision in a carnal way. He resorted to the lot, and not only so, but to the lot as cast in the lap of the lottery! In other words, he first drew a lot in private, and then bought a ticket in a royal lottery, expecting his steps to be guided in a matter so solemn as the choice of a field for the service of God, by the turn of the ‘wheel of fortune’! Should his ticket draw a prize he would go; if not, stay at home. Having drawn a small sum, he accordingly accepted this as a ‘sign,’ and at once applied to the Berlin Missionary Society, but was not accepted because his application was not accompanied with his father’s consent.
Thus a higher Hand had disposed while man proposed. God kept out of the mission field, at this juncture, one so utterly unfit for His work that he had not even learned that primary lesson that he who would work with God must first wait on Him and wait for Him, and that all undue haste in such a matter is worse than waste. He who kept Moses waiting forty years before He sent him to lead out captive Israel, who withdrew Saul of Tarsus three years into Arabia before he sent him as an apostle to the nations, and who left even His own Son thirty years in obscurity before His manifestation as Messiah—this God is in no hurry to put other servants at work. He says to all impatient souls: “My time is not yet full come, but your time is always ready.”
Only twice after this did George Müller ever resort to the lot: once at a literal parting of the ways when he was led by it to take the wrong fork of the road, and afterward in a far more important matter, but with a like result: in both cases he found he had been misled, and henceforth abandoned all such chance methods of determining the mind of God. He learned two lessons, which new dealings of God more and more deeply impressed:First, that the safe guide in every crisis is believing prayer in connection with the word of God. Secondly, that continued uncertainty as to one’s course is a reason for continued waiting.
These lessons should not be lightly passed over, for they are too valuable. The flesh is impatient of all delay, both in decision and action; hence all carnal choices are immature and premature, and all carnal courses are mistaken and unspiritual. God is often moved to delay that we may be led to pray, and even the answers to prayer are deferred that the natural and carnal spirit may be kept in check and self-will may bow before the will of God.
In a calm review of his course many years later George Müller saw that he “ran hastily to the lot” as a shorter way of settling a doubtful matter, and that, especially in the question of God’s call to the mission field, this was shockingly improper. He saw also how unfit he had been at that time for the work he sought: he should rather have asked himself how one so ignorant and so needing to be taught could think of teaching others! Though a child of God, he could not as yet have given a clear statement or explanation of the most elementary gospel truths. The one thing needful was therefore to have sought through much prayer and Bible study to get first of all a deeper knowledge and a deeper experience of divine things. Impatience to settle a matter so important was itself seen to be a positive disqualification for true service, revealing unfitness to endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. There is a constant strain and drain on patient waiting which is a necessary feature of missionary trial and particularly the trial of deferred harvests. One who, at the outset, could not brook delay in making his first decision, and wait for God to make known His will in His own way and time, would not on the field have had long patience as a husbandman, waiting for the precious fruit of his toil, or have met with quietness of spirit the thousand perplexing problems of work among the heathen!
Moreover the conviction grew that, could he have followed the lot, his choice would have been a life-mistake. His mind, at that time, was bent upon the East Indies as a field. Yet all subsequent events clearly showed that God’s choice for him was totally different. His repeated offers met as repeated refusals, and though on subsequent occasions he acted most deliberately and solemnly, no open door was found, but he was in every case kept from following out his honest purpose. Nor could the lot be justified as an indication of his ultimate call to the mission field, for the purpose of it was definite, namely, to ascertain, not whether at some period of his life he was to go forth, but whether at that time he was to go or stay. The whole afterlife of George Müller proved that God had for him an entirely different plan, which He was not ready yet to reveal, and which His servant was not yet prepared to see or follow. If any man’s life ever was a plan of God, surely this life was; and the Lord’s distinct, emphatic leading, when made known, was not in this direction. He had purposed for George Müller a larger field than the Indies, and a wider witness than even the gospel message to heathen peoples. He was ‘not suffered’ to go into ‘Bithynia’ because ‘Macedonia’ was waiting for his ministry.
With increasing frequency, earnestness, and minuteness, was George Müller led to put before God, in prayer, all matters that lay upon his mind. This man was to be peculiarly an example to believers as an intercessor; and so God gave him from the outset a very simple, childlike disposition toward Himself. In many things he was in knowledge and in strength to outgrow childhood and become a man, for it marks immaturity when we err through ignorance and are overcome through weakness. But in faith and in the filial spirit, he always continued to be a little child. Mr. J. Hudson Taylor well reminds us that while in nature the normal order of growth is from childhood to manhood and so to maturity, in grace the true development is perpetually backward toward the cradle: we must become and continue as little children, not losing, but rather gaining, childlikeness of spirit. The disciple’s maturest manhood is only the perfection of his childhood. George Müller was never so really, truly, fully a little child in all his relations to his Father, as when in the ninety-third year of his age.
Being thus providentially kept from the Indies, he began definite work at home, though yet having little real knowledge of the divine art of coworking with God. He spoke to others of their soul’s welfare, and wrote to former companions in sin, and circulated tracts and missionary papers. Nor were his labours without encouragement, though sometimes his methods were awkward or even grotesque, as when, speaking to a beggar in the fields about his need of salvation, he tried to overcome apathetic indifference by speaking louder and louder, as though, mere bawling in his ears would subdue the hardness of his heart!
In 1826 he first attempted to preach. An unconverted schoolmaster some six miles from Halle he was the means of turning to the Lord; and this schoolmaster asked him to come and help an aged, infirm clergyman in the parish. Being a student of divinity he was at liberty to preach, but conscious ignorance had hitherto restrained him. He thought, however, that by committing some other man’s sermon to memory he might profit the hearers, and so he undertook it. It was slavish work to prepare, for it took most of a week to memorize the sermon, and it was joyless work to deliver it, for there was none of the living power that attends a man’s God-given message and witness. His conscience was not yet enlightened enough to see that he was acting a false part in preaching another’s sermon as his own; nor had he the spiritual insight to perceive that it is not God’s way to set up a man to preach who knows not enough of either His word or the life of the Spirit within him, to prepare his own discourse. How few even among preachers feel preaching to be a divine vocation and not a mere human profession; that a ministry of the truth implies the witness of experience, and that to preach another man’s sermon is, at the best, unnatural walking on stilts! George Müller ‘got through’ his painful effort of August 27, 1826, reciting this memoriter sermon at eight A.M. in the chapel of ease, and three hours later in the parish church. Being asked to preach again in the afternoon, but having no second sermon committed to memory, he had to keep silent, or depend on the Lord for help. He thought he could at least read the fifth chapter of Matthew, and simply expound it. But he had no sooner begun the first beatitude than he felt himself greatly assisted. Not only were his lips opened, but the Scriptures were opened too, his own soul expanded, and a peace and power, wholly unknown to his tame, mechanical repetitions of the morning, accompanied the simpler expositions of the afternoon, with this added advantage, that he talked on a level with the people and not over their heads, his colloquial, earnest speech riveting their attention.
Going back to Halle, he said to himself, ‘This is the true way to preach,’ albeit he felt misgivings lest such a simple style of exposition might not suit so well a cultured refined city congregation. He had yet to learn how the enticing words of man’s wisdom make the cross of Christ of none effect, and how the very simplicity that makes preaching intelligible to the illiterate makes sure that the most cultivated will also understand it, whereas the reverse is not true.
Here was another very important step in his preparation