GEORGE MULLER OF BRISTOL
HIS WITNESS TO A PRAYER-HEARING GOD
BY ARTHUR T. PIERSON Author of "The Crisis of Missions," "The New Acts of the Apostles," "Many Infallible Proofs," etc.; editor of "The Missionary Review of the World," etc.
WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY JAMES WRIGHT Son-in-law and successor in the work of George Muller
NEW YORK CHICAGO TORONTO Fleming H. Revell Company LONDON AND EDINBURGH
Copyright, 1899, BY THE BAKER AND TAYLOR CO.
[Transcriber's Note: George Muller's family name is Germanic in origin. Everywhere that his name appears in the printed text, the letter "u" is marked with two dots above it (called an 'umlaut') to show that it is pronounced differently from the way the unmarked vowel is normally pronounced. So his name is usually pronounced in English as Myew-ler, not as Mool-ler or Mull-ler.]
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 Muller," 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. Muller'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. Muller'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. Muller 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 well-known 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. Muller, 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. Muller'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.
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 Muller," 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. Muller'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. Muller's life-story 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. Muller's associate and knew him so intimately.
So prominent was the word of God as a power in Mr. Muller'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 Muller'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?
Table of Contents PAGE
INTRODUCTION BY MR. JAMES WRIGHT ........
A PREFATORY WORD .....
CHAPTER I. FROM HIS BIRTH TO HIS NEW BIRTH .........
CHAPTER II. THE NEW BIRTH AND THE NEW LIFE ......
CHAPTER III. MAKING READY THE CHOSEN VESSEL ......
CHAPTER IV. NEW STEPS AND STAGES OF PREPARATION ....
CHAPTER V. THE PULPIT AND THE PASTORATE ..........
CHAPTER VI. "THE NARRATIVE OF THE LORD'S DEALINGS" ......
CHAPTER VII. LED OF GOD INTO A NEW SPHERE ........
CHAPTER VIII. A TREE OF GOD'S OWN PLANTING ........
CHAPTER IX. THE GROWTH OF GOD'S OWN PLANT ........
CHAPTER X. THE WORD OF GOD AND PRAYER .....
CHAPTER XI. TRIALS OF FAITH AND HELPERS TO FAITH .......
CHAPTER XII. NEW LESSONS IN GOD'S SCHOOL OF PRAYER ......
CHAPTER XIII. FOLLOWING THE PILLAR OF CLOUD AND FIRE ......
CHAPTER XIV. GOD'S BUILDING: THE NEW ORPHAN HOUSES .....
CHAPTER XV. THE MANIFOLD GRACE OF GOD ...........
CHAPTER XVI. THE SHADOW OF A GREAT SORROW .....
CHAPTER XVII. THE PERIOD OF WORLD-WIDE WITNESS ........
CHAPTER XVIII. FAITH AND PATIENCE IN SERVING ..........
CHAPTER XIX. AT EVENING-TIME-LIGHT .............
CHAPTER XX. THE SUMMARY OF THE LIFE-WORK ......
CHAPTER XXI. CHURCH LIFE AND GROWTH ...
CHAPTER XXII. A GLANCE AT THE GIFTS AND THE GIVERS ...
CHAPTER XXIII. GOD'S WITNESS TO THE WORK ........
CHAPTER XXIV. LAST LOOKS, BACKWARD AND FORWARD ....
A. SCRIPTURE TEXTS THAT MOULDED GEORGE MULLER ....
B. APPREHENSION OF TRUTH ............
C. SEPARATION FROM THE LONDON SOCIETY, ETC. ....
D. THE SCRIPTURAL KNOWLEDGE INSTITUTION FOR HOME AND ABROAD ....
E. REASONS WHICH LED MR. MULLER TO ESTABLISH AN ORPHAN HOUSE ....
F. ARGUMENTS IN PRAYER FOR THE ORPHAN WORK ....
G. THE PURCHASE OF A SITE, ETC. .........
H. GOD'S FAITHFULNESS IN PROVIDING ........
K. FURTHER RECOLLECTIONS OF MR. MULLER .....
L. CHURCH FELLOWSHIP, BAPTISM, ETC. ........
M. CHURCH CONDUCT ...............
N. THE WISE SAYINGS OF GEORGE MULLER ...
George Muller of Bristol
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 Muller 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 Muller 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 Muller 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 punctuation-marks 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 heavenly-minded, 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 Muller's transformation! Saul had in his favor a conscience, however misguided, and a morality, however pharisaic. George Muller 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 Muller!
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 Muller 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 Muller 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 Muller, 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 Muller, 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 Muller 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 Muller 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 Muller, 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 Muller 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' pleasure-drive, 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 Muller, 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 Muller 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.
THE 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 Muller 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 Muller 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 Muller, 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 Muller 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 Muller and took him to the meeting.
During his wanderings as a backslider, Beta had both joined and aided George Muller 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 Muller'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 Muller 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 Muller 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 Muller, 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 Muller'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 Muller'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 Muller 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 Muller 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 Muller 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 Muller'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 ONLY-BEGOTTEN 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 Muller. 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 self-sacrifice. 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 self-indulgent and luxurious ease. This choice made on young Muller 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 Muller, 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 Muller 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 Mullers 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 Muller 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 Muller 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.
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 Muller 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 Muller 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 Muller 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 after-life of George Muller 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 Muller 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 Muller 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 Muller 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 Muller '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 for subsequent service. He was to rank throughout life among the simplest and most scriptural of preachers. This first trial of pulpit-work led to frequent sermons, and in proportion as his speech was in the simplicity that is in Christ did he find joy in his work and a harvest from it. The committed sermon of some great preacher might draw forth human praise, but it was the simple witness of the Word, and of the believer to the Word, that had praise of God. His preaching was not then much owned of God in fruit. Doubtless the Lord saw that he was not ready for reaping, and scarcely for sowing: there was yet too little prayer in preparation and too little unction in delivery, and so his labours were comparatively barren of results.
About this same time he took another step—perhaps the most significant thus far in its bearing on the precise form of work so closely linked with his name. For some two months he availed himself of the free lodgings furnished for poor divinity students in the famous Orphan Houses built by A. H. Francke. This saintly man, a professor of divinity at Halle, who had died a hundred years before (1727), had been led to found an orphanage in entire dependence upon God. Half unconsciously George Muller's whole life-work at Bristol found both its suggestion and pattern in Francke's orphanage at Halle. The very building where this young student lodged was to him an object lesson—a visible, veritable, tangible proof that the Living God hears prayer, and can, in answer to prayer alone, build a house for orphan children. That lesson was never lost, and George Muller fell into the apostolic succession of such holy labour! He often records how much his own faith-work was indebted to that example of simple trust in prayer exhibited by Francke. Seven years later he read his life, and was thereby still more prompted to follow him as he followed Christ.
George Muller's spiritual life in these early days was strangely chequered. For instance, he who, as a Lutheran divinity student, was essaying to preach, hung up in his room a framed crucifix, hoping thereby to keep in mind the sufferings of Christ and so less frequently fall into sin. Such helps, however, availed him little, for while he rested upon such artificial props, it seemed as though he sinned the oftener.
He was at this time overworking, writing sometimes fourteen hours a day, and this induced nervous depression, which exposed him to various temptations. He ventured into a confectioner's shop where wine and beer were sold, and then suffered reproaches of conscience for conduct so unbecoming a believer; and he found himself indulging ungracious and ungrateful thoughts of God, who, instead of visiting him with deserved chastisement, multiplied His tender mercies.
He wrote to a rich, liberal and titled lady, asking a loan, and received the exact sum asked for, with a letter, not from her, but from another into whose hands his letter had fallen by "a peculiar providence," and who signed it as "An adoring worshipper of the Saviour Jesus Christ." While led to send the money asked for, the writer added wise words of caution and counsel—words so fitted to George Muller's exact need that he saw plainly the higher Hand that had guided the anonymous writer. In that letter he was urged to "seek by watching and prayer to be delivered from all vanity and self-complacency," to make it his "chief aim to be more and more humble, faithful, and quiet," and not to be of those who "say 'Lord, Lord,' but have Him not deeply in their hearts." He was also reminded that "Christianity consists not in words but in power, and that there must be life in us."
He was deeply moved by this message from God through an unknown party, and the more as it had come, with its enclosure, at the time when he was not only guilty of conduct unbecoming a disciple, but indulging hard thoughts of his heavenly Father. He went out to walk alone, and was so deeply wrought on by God's goodness and his own ingratitude that he knelt behind a hedge, and, though in snow a foot deep, he forgot himself for a half-hour in praise, prayer, and self-surrender.
Yet so deceitful is the human heart that a few weeks later he was in such a backslidden state that, for a time, he was again both careless and prayerless, and one day sought to drown the voice of conscience in the wine-cup. The merciful Father gave not up his child to folly and sin. He who once could have gone to great lengths in dissipation now found a few glasses of wine more than enough; his relish for such pleasures was gone, and so was the power to silence the still small voice of conscience and of the Spirit of God.
Such vacillations in Christian experience were due in part to the lack of holy associations and devout companionships. Every disciple needs help in holy living, and this young believer yearned for that spiritual uplift afforded by sympathetic fellow believers. In vacation times he had found at Gnadau, the Moravian settlement some three miles from his father's residence, such soul refreshment, but Halle itself supplied little help. He went often to church, but seldom heard the Gospel, and in that town of over 30,000, with all its ministers, he found not one enlightened clergyman. When, therefore, he could hear such a preacher as Dr. Tholuck, he would walk ten or fifteen miles to enjoy such a privilege. The meetings continued at Mr. Wagner's house; and on the Lord's day evenings some six or more believing students were wont to gather, and both these assemblies were means of grace. From Easter, 1827, so long as he remained in Halle, this latter meeting was held in his own room, and must rank alongside those little gatherings of the "Holy Club" in Lincoln College, Oxford, which a hundred years before had shaped the Wesleys and Whitefield for their great careers. Before George Muller left Halle the attendance at this weekly meeting in his room had grown to twenty.
These assemblies were throughout very simple and primitive. In addition to prayer, singing, and reading of God's word, one or more brethren exhorted or read extracts from devout books. Here young Muller freely opened his heart to others, and through their counsels and prayers was delivered from many snares.
One lesson, yet to be learned, was that the one fountain of all wisdom and strength is the Holy Scriptures. Many disciples practically prefer religious books to the Book of God. He had indeed found much of the reading with which too many professed believers occupy their minds to be but worthless chaff—such as French and German novels; but as yet he had not formed the habit of reading the word of God daily and systematically as in later life, almost to the exclusion of other books. In his ninety-second year, he said to the writer, that for every page of any other reading he was sure he read ten of the Bible. But, up to that November day in 1825 when he first met a praying band of disciples, he had never to his recollection read one chapter in the Book of books; and for the first four years of his new life he gave to the works of uninspired men practical preference over the Living Oracles.
After a true relish for the Scriptures had been created, he could not understand how he could ever have treated God's Book with such neglect. It seemed obvious that God's having condescended to become an Author, inspiring holy men to write the Scriptures, He would in them impart the most vital truths; His message would cover all matters which concern man's welfare, and therefore, under the double impulse of duty and delight, we should instinctively and habitually turn to the Bible. Moreover, as he read and studied this Book of God, he felt himself admitted to more and more intimate acquaintance with the Author. During the last twenty years of his life he read it carefully through, four or five times annually, with a growing sense of his own rapid increase in the knowledge of God thereby.
Such motives for Bible study it is strange that any true believer should overlook. Ruskin, in writing "Of the King's Treasuries," refers to the universal ambition for 'advancement in life,' which means 'getting into good society.' How many obstacles one finds in securing an introduction to the great and good of this world, and even then in getting access to them, in securing an audience with the kings and queens of human society! Yet there is open to us a society of people of the very first rank who will meet us and converse with us so long as we like, whatever our ignorance, poverty, or low estate—namely, the society of authors; and the key that unlocks their private audience-chamber is their books.
So writes Ruskin, and all this is beautifully true; but how few, even among believers, appreciate the privilege of access to the great Author of the universe through His word! Poor and rich, high and low, ignorant and learned, young and old, all alike are welcomed to the audience-chamber of the King of kings. The most intimate knowledge of God is possible on one condition—that we search His Holy Scriptures, prayerfully and habitually, and translate what we there find, into obedience. Of him who thus meditates on God's law day and night, who looks and continues looking into this perfect law of liberty, the promise is unique, and found in both Testaments: "Whatsoever he doeth shall prosper"; "that man shall be blessed in his deed." (Comp. Psalm i. 3; Joshua i. 8; James i. 25.)
So soon as George Muller found this well-spring of delight and success, he drank habitually at this fountain of living waters. In later life he lamented that, owing to his early neglect of this source of divine wisdom and strength, he remained so long in spiritual infancy, with its ignorance and impotence. So long and so far as his growth in knowledge of God was thus arrested his growth in grace was likewise hindered. His close walk with God began at the point where he learned that such walk is always in the light of that inspired word which is divinely declared to be to the obedient soul "a lamp unto the feet and a light unto the path." He who would keep up intimate converse with the Lord must habitually find in the Scriptures the highway of such companionship. God's aristocracy, His nobility, the princes of His realm, are not the wise, mighty, and high-born of earth, but often the poor, weak, despised of men, who abide in His presence and devoutly commune with Him through His inspired word.
Blessed are they who have thus learned to use the key which gives free access, not only to the King's Treasuries, but to the King Himself!
NEW STEPS AND STAGES OF PREPARATION
PASSION for souls is a divine fire, and in the heart of George Muller that fire now began to burn more brightly, and demanded vent.
In August, 1827, his mind was more definitely than before turned toward mission work. Hearing that the Continental Society of Britain sought a minister for Bucharest, he offered himself through Dr. Tholuck, who, in behalf of the Society, was on the lookout for a suitable candidate. To his great surprise his father gave consent, though Bucharest was more than a thousand miles distant and as truly missionary ground as any other field. After a short visit home he came back to Halle, his face steadfastly set toward his far-off field, and his heart seeking prayerful preparation for expected self-sacrifice and hardship. But God had other plans for His servant, and he never went to Bucharest.
In October following, Hermann Ball, passing through Halle, and being at the little weekly meeting in Muller's room, told him how failing health forbade his continuing his work among Polish Jews; and at once there sprang up in George Muller's mind a strong desire to take his place. Such work doubly attracted him, because it would bring him into close contact with God's chosen but erring people, Israel; and because it would afford opportunity to utilize those Hebrew studies which so engrossed him.
At this very time, calling upon Dr. Tholuck, he was asked, to his surprise, whether he had ever felt a desire to labour among the Jews—Dr. Tholuck then acting as agent for the London Missionary Society for promoting missions among them. This question naturally fanned the flame of his already kindled desire; but, shortly after, Bucharest being the seat of the war then raging between the Russians and Turks, the project of sending a minister there was for the time abandoned. But a door seemed to open before him just as another shut behind him.
The committee in London, learning that he was available as a missionary to the Jews, proposed his coming to that city for six months as a missionary student to prepare for the work. To enter thus on a sort of probation was trying to the flesh, but, as it seemed right that there should be opportunity for mutual acquaintance between committee and candidate, to insure harmonious cooperation, his mind was disposed to accede to the proposal.
There was, however, a formidable obstacle. Prussian male subjects must commonly serve three years in the army, and classical students who have passed the university examinations, at least one year. George Muller, who had not served out even this shorter term, could not, without royal exemption, even get a passport out of the country. Application was made for such exemption, but it failed. Meanwhile he was taken ill, and after ten weeks suffered a relapse. While at Leipzig with an American professor with whom he went to the opera, he unwisely partook of some refreshments between the acts, which again brought on illness. He had broken a blood-vessel in the stomach, and he returned to Halle, never again to enter a theatre. Subsequently being asked to go to Berlin for a few weeks to teach German, he went, hoping at the Prussian capital to find access to the court through persons of rank and secure the desired exemption. But here again he failed. There now seemed no way of escaping a soldier's term, and he submitted himself for examination, but was pronounced physically unfit for military duty. In God's providence he fell into kind hands, and, being a second time examined and found unfit, he was thenceforth completely exempted for life from all service in the army.
God's lines of purpose mysteriously converged. The time had come; the Master spake and it was done: all things moved in one direction—to set His servant free from the service of his country, that, under the Captain of his salvation, he might endure hardness as a good soldier of Christ, without entanglement in the affairs of this life. Aside from this, his stay at the capital had not been unprofitable, for he had preached five times a week in the poorhouse and conversed on the Lord's days with the convicts in the prison.
In February, 1829, he left for London, on the way visiting his father at Heimersleben, where he had returned after retirement from office; and he reached the English metropolis March 19th. His liberty was much curtailed as a student in this new seminary, but, as no rule conflicted with his conscience, he submitted. He studied about twelve hours daily, giving attention mainly to Hebrew and cognate branches closely connected with his expected field. Sensible of the risk of that deadness of soul which often results from undue absorption in mental studies, he committed to memory much of the Hebrew Old Testament and pursued his tasks in a prayerful spirit, seeking God's help in matters, however minute, connected with daily duty.
Tempted to the continual use of his native tongue by living with his German countrymen, he made little progress in English, which he afterward regretted; and he was wont, therefore, to counsel those who propose to work among a foreign people, not only to live among them in order to learn their language, but to keep aloof as far as may be from their own countrymen, so as to be compelled to use the tongue which is to give them access to those among whom they labour.
In connection with this removal to Britain a seemingly trivial occurrence left upon him a lasting impress—another proof that there are no little things in life. Upon a very small hinge a huge door may swing and turn. It is, in fact, often the apparently trifling events that mould our history, work, and destiny.
A student incidentally mentioned a dentist in Exeter—a Mr. Groves—who for the Lord's sake had resigned his calling with fifteen hundred pounds a year, and with wife and children offered himself as a missionary to Persia, simply trusting the Lord for all temporal supplies. This act of self-denying trust had a strange charm for Mr. Muller, and he could not dismiss it from his mind; indeed, he distinctly entered it in his journal and wrote about it to friends at home. It was another lesson in faith, and in the very line of that trust of which for more than sixty years he was to be so conspicuous an example and illustration.
In the middle of May, 1829, he was taken ill and felt himself to be past recovery. Sickness is often attended with strange self-disclosure. His conviction of sin and guilt at his conversion was too superficial and shallow to leave any after-remembrance. But, as is often true in the history of God's saints, the sense of guilt, which at first seemed to have no roots in conscience and scarce an existence, struck deeper into his being and grew stronger as he knew more of God and grew more like Him. This common experience of saved souls is susceptible of easy explanation. Our conceptions of things depend mainly upon two conditions: first, the clearness of our vision of truth and duty; and secondly, the standard of measurement and comparison. The more we live in God and unto God, the more do our eyes become enlightened to see the enormity and deformity of sin, so that we recognize the hatefulness of evil more distinctly: and the more clearly do we recognize the perfection of God's holiness and make it the pattern and model of our own holy living.
The amateur musician or artist has a false complacency in his own very imperfect work only so far as his ear or eye or taste is not yet trained to accurate discrimination; but, as he becomes more accomplished in a fine art, and more appreciative of it, he recognizes every defect or blemish of his previous work, until the musical performance seems a wretched failure and the painting a mere daub. The change, however, is wholly in the workman and not in the work: both the music and the painting are in themselves just what they were, but the man is capable of something so much better, that his standard of comparison is raised to a higher level, and his capacity for a true judgment is correspondingly enlarged.
Even so a child of God who, like Elijah, stands before Him as a waiting, willing, obedient servant, and has both likeness to God and power with God, may get under the juniper-tree of despondency, cast down with the sense of unworthiness and ill desert. As godliness increases the sense of ungodliness becomes more acute, and so feelings never accurately gauge real assimilation to God. We shall seem worst in our own eyes when in His we are best, and conversely.
A Mohammedan servant ventured publicly to challenge a preacher who, in an Indian bazaar, was asserting the universal depravity of the race, by affirming that he knew at least one woman who was immaculate, absolutely without fault, and that woman, his own Christian mistress. The preacher bethought himself to ask in reply whether he had any means of knowing whether that was her opinion of herself, which caused the Mohammedan to confess that there lay the mystery: she had been often overheard in prayer confessing herself the most unworthy of sinners.
To return from this digression, Mr. Muller, not only during this illness, but down to life's sudden close, had a growing sense of sin and guilt which would at times have been overwhelming, had he not known upon the testimony of the Word that "whoso covereth his sins shall not prosper, but he that confesseth and forsaketh them shall find mercy." From his own guilt he turned his eyes to the cross where it was atoned for, and to the mercy-seat where forgiveness meets the penitent sinner; and so sorrow for sin was turned into the joy of the justified.
This confidence of acceptance in the Beloved so stripped death of its terrors that during this illness he longed rather to depart and to be with Christ; but after a fortnight he was pronounced better, and, though still longing for the heavenly rest, he submitted to the will of God for a longer sojourn in the land of his pilgrimage, little foreseeing what joy he was to find in living for God, or how much he was to know of the days of heaven upon earth.
During this illness, also, he showed the growing tendency to bring before the Lord in prayer even the minutest matters which his later life so signally exhibited. He constantly besought God to guide his physician, and every new dose of medicine was accompanied by a new petition that God would use it for his good and enable him with patience to await His will. As he advanced toward recovery he sought rest at Teignmouth, where, shortly after his arrival, "Ebenezer" chapel was reopened. It was here also that Mr. Muller became acquainted with Mr. Henry Craik, who was for so many years not only his friend, but fellow labourer.
It was also about this time that, as he records, certain great truths began to be made clear to him and to stand out in much prominence. This period of personal preparation is so important in its bearing on his whole after-career that the reader should have access to his own witness.*
* See Appendix B.
On returning to London, prospered in soul-health as also in bodily vigor, he proposed to fellow students a daily morning meeting, from 6 to 8, for prayer and Bible study, when each should give to the others such views of any passage read as the Lord might give him. These spiritual exercises proved so helpful and so nourished the appetite for divine things that, after continuing in prayer late into the evening hours, he sometimes at midnight sought the fellowship of some like-minded brother, and thus prolonged the prayer season until one or two o'clock in the morning; and even then sleep was often further postponed by his overflowing joy in God. Thus, under his great Teacher, did this pupil, early in his spiritual history, learn that supreme lesson that to every child of God the word of God is the bread of life, and the prayer of faith the breath of life.
Mr. Muller had been back in London scarcely ten days before health again declined, and the conviction took strong hold upon him that he should not spend his little strength in confining study, but at once get about his work; and this conviction was confirmed by the remembrance of the added light which God had given him and the deeper passion he now felt to serve Him more freely and fully. Under the pressure of this persuasion that both his physical and spiritual welfare would be promoted by actual labours for souls, he sought of the Society a prompt appointment to his field of service; and that they might with the more confidence commission him, he asked that some experienced man might be sent out with him as a fellow counsellor and labourer.
After waiting in vain for six weeks for an answer to this application, he felt another strong conviction: that to wait on his fellow men to be sent out to his field and work was unscriptural and therefore wrong. Barnabas and Saul were called by name and sent forth by the Holy Spirit, before the church at Antioch had taken any action; and he felt himself so called of the Spirit to his work that he was prompted to begin at once, without waiting for human authority,—and why not among the Jews in London? Accustomed to act promptly upon conviction, he undertook to distribute among them tracts bearing his name and address, so that any who wished personal guidance could find him. He sought them at their gathering-places, read the Scriptures at stated times with some fifty Jewish lads, and taught in a Sunday-school. Thus, instead of lying like a vessel in dry-dock for repairs, he was launched into Christian work, though, like other labourers among the despised Jews, he found himself exposed to petty trials and persecutions, called to suffer reproach for the name of Christ.