He kept continually before him his stewardship of God’s property; and sought to make the most of the one brief life on earth and to use for the best and largest good the property held by him in trust. The things of God were deep realities, and, projecting every action and decision and motive into the light of the judgment seat of Christ, he asked himself how it would appear to him in the light of that tribunal. Thus he sought prayerfully and conscientiously so to live and labor, so to deny himself, and, by love, serve his Master, and his fellowmen that he should not be “ashamed before Him at His coming.” But not in a spirit of fear; for if any man of his generation knew the perfect love that casts out fear it was he. He felt that God is love and love is of God. He saw that love manifested in the greatest of gifts — His only begotten Son; at Calvary he knew and believed the love that God hath to us; he received it into his own heart; it became an abiding presence manifested in obedience and benevolence; and, subduing him more and more, it became perfected so as to expel all tormenting fear and impart a holy confidence and delight in God.
Among the texts which strongly impressed and moulded Mr. Müller’s habits of giving was Luke 6:38: “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom.” He believed this promise and he verified it. His testimony is, “I had given, and God had caused to be given to me again, and bountifully.” Again he read, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” He says that he believed what he found in the word of God and by His grace sought to act accordingly, and thus again records that he was blessed abundantly and his peace and joy in the Holy Spirit increased more and more.
It will not be a surprise, therefore, that, as has been already noted, Mr. Müller’s entire personal estate at his death, as sworn to, when the will was admitted to probate, was only £169. 9s. 4d., of which books, household furniture, etc., were reckoned at over 100 pounds, the only money in his possession being a trifle over sixty pounds, and even this only awaiting disbursement as God’s steward.
To summarize Mr. Müller’s service we must understand his great secret. Such a life and such a work are the result of one habit more than all else — daily and frequent communion with God. He was unwearied in supplications and intercessions. In every new need and crisis, the one resort was the prayer of faith. He first satisfied himself that he was in the way of duty, then he fixed his mind on the unchanging word of promise; then, in the boldness of a suppliant who comes to a throne of grace in the name of Jesus Christ, and pleads the assurance of the immutable Promiser, he presented every petition. He was an unwearied intercessor. No delay discouraged him. This is seen particularly in the case of individuals for whose conversion or special guidance into the paths of full obedience he prayed. On his prayer list were the names of some for whom he had besought God daily by name, for from one to ten years before the answer was given. There were two parties, for whose reconciliation to God he prayed, day by day, for over sixty years, and who had not at the time of his death, turned unto God; but he said, “I have not a doubt that I shall meet them both in heaven; for my Heavenly Father would not lay upon my heart a burden of prayer for them for over three score years, if He had not concerning them purposes of mercy.”
This is a sufficient example of his almost unparalleled perseverance and importunity in intercession. However long the delay, he held on, as with both hands clasping the very horns of the altar; and his childlike spirit reasoned simply but confidently that the very fact of his own spirit being so long drawn out in prayer for one object, and of the Lord’s enabling him so to continue patiently and believingly to wait on Him for the blessing, was a promise and prophecy of the answer; and so he waited on, so assured of the ultimate result that he praised God in advance, as having already received that for which he asked.
One of the parties for whom for so many years he had unceasingly prayed, shortly after his departure, died in faith, having received the promises and embraced them and confessed Jesus as his Lord.
Mr. Müller frequently in his Journal and reports warned his fellow disciples not to regard him as a miracle worker, or his experience as so exceptional as to have little application to the ordinary spheres of life and service. With patient repetition he affirms that, in all essentials, such an experience is the privilege of all believers. God calls disciples to various forms of work, but all alike to the same faith. To say, therefore, “I am not called to build orphan houses, etc., and have no right to expect answers to my prayers as Mr. Müller did,” is wrong and unbelieving. Every child of God is first to get into the sphere appointed of God, and therein to exercise full trust, and live by faith upon God’s sure word of promise.
Throughout all the thousands of pages written by his pen, he teaches that this experience of God’s faithfulness is both the reward of past faith and prayer and the preparation of the servant of God for larger work, more efficient service, and more convincing witness to his Lord.
No one can understand this work who does not see in it the supernatural power of God; without that, it is an enigma, defying solution; with that, all the mystery is an open mystery. He himself felt, from first to last, that this supernatural factor was the whole key to the work, and without that it would have been to himself a problem inexplicable. How pathetically he often compared himself and his work for God to the “burning bush in the wilderness,” which always aflame and always threatened with apparent destruction, was not consumed, so that not a few turned aside, wondering to see this great sight. And why was it not burnt? Because Jehovah of Hosts who was in the bush dwelt in the man and in his work; or, as Wesley said with almost his last breath, “Best of all God is with us.”
This simile of the burning bush is the more apt, when we consider the rapid growth of the work. At first so very small as to seem almost insignificant, and conducted in one small rented house, accommodating thirty orphans; then enlarged until other rented premises became necessary; then one, two, three, four and even five immense structures being built until three hundred, seven hundred, eleven hundred and fifty, and finally two thousand and fifty inmates could find shelter within them; seldom has the world seen any such vast and rapid enlargement. Then look at the outlay! At first a trifling expenditure of perhaps four hundred pounds for the first year of the Scriptural Knowledge Institution, and of five hundred pounds for the first twelve months of the orphan work, and in the last year of Mr. Müller’s life a grand total of over twenty-six thousand pounds for all the purposes of the work.
The cost of the houses built on Ashley Down might have staggered even a man of large capital, but this poor man only cried and the Lord helped him. The first house cost fifteen thousand pounds, the second over twenty-one thousand, the third over twenty-three thousand, and the fourth and fifth from fifty thousand to sixty thousand more — so that the total cost reached about one hundred and fifteen thousand pounds. Besides all this there was a yearly expenditure which rose as high as twenty-five thousand for the orphans alone, irrespective of those occasional outlays made needful for emergencies, such as improved sanitary precautions.
Here is a burning bush indeed, always in seeming danger of being consumed, yet still standing on Ashley Down, and still preserved because the same presence of Jehovah burns in it. Not a branch of this many sided work has utterly perished, while the whole work still challenges unbelievers to turn aside and see the great sight, and take off their shoes from their feet; for is not all ground holy where God abides and manifests Himself?
In attempting a survey of this great life work we must not forget how much of it was wholly outside of the Scriptural Knowledge Institution; namely, all that service which Mr. Müller was permitted to render to the church of Christ and the world at large, as preacher, pastor, witness for truth and author of books and tracts.
His preaching period covered the whole time from 1826 to 1898, the year of his departure — over seventy years; and with an average through the whole period of probably three sermons a week, or over ten thousand for his lifetime, which is probably a low estimate, for, during his missionary tours, which covered over two hundred thousand miles and were spread through seventeen years, he spoke on an average once a day, even at his already advanced age.
Probably those brought to the knowledge of Christ by his preaching would reach into the thousands, exclusive of orphans converted at Ashley Down. Then when we take into account the vast numbers addressed and impressed by his addresses given in all parts of the United Kingdom, on the continent of Europe, and in America, Asia and Australia, and the still vaster numbers who have read his narrative, his books and tracts, or who have in various other ways felt the quickening power of his example and life, we shall get some inadequate conception of the range and scope of the influence wielded by his tongue and pen, his labors and his life. Much of the best influence defies all tabulated statistics and evades all mathematical estimate — it is like the fragrance of the alabaster flask which fills all the house, but escapes our grosser senses of sight, hearing and touch. This part of George Müller’s work belongs to a realm where we cannot penetrate. But God sees, knows and rewards it.
Yet there are those who doubt or deny the sufficiency of even this proof, though so full and convincing. In a prominent daily newspaper, a correspondent, discussing the efficacy of prayer, thus referred to the experience of George Müller:
“I resided in that country during most of the seventies, when he was often described as the best-advertised man in the Three Kingdoms. By a large number of religious people he was more spoken of than were Gladstone and Disraeli, and accordingly it is not miraculous that, although he said he had never once solicited aid on behalf of his charitable enterprise, money in a continuous stream flowed into his treasury. Even to non-religious persons in Great Britain his name was quite as familiar as that of Moody.
“Doubtless Müller was quite sincere in his convictions, but, by the very peculiarity of his method, his wants were advertised throughout the world most conspicuously, thus receiving the benefit of a far larger publicity than would otherwise have obtained, and it being known that he was praying for money, money, of course, came in to him.
“But were Müller’s prayers answered invariably? According to a memoir by a personal friend, which has lately been published, this was far from having been the case, and he often felt aggrieved at what he considered a slight on the part of the Almighty, one of whose ‘pets’ (to quote Mr. Savage) he evidently imagined himself to be. For example, he prayed for two of his ‘unconverted’ friends for nearly fifty years without avail. There was absolutely nothing in his career which could not be accounted for as the result of purely natural causes.
“If it was possible to admit that what he looked upon as answers to his prayers were due to special interventions of Providence in his behalf (in other words, to favoritism), the question would inevitably arise, Why have the prayers of thousands of other Christian people, whose faith is quite as strong as Müller’s, been disregarded? What are we to think of the little band of enthusiasts who left this country for Jerusalem a few months ago to see Christ ‘appear in the clouds,’ and who, at last accounts, were reported to be starving, with no immediate prospect of a return to their homes?”
“Lector” takes an easy way to evade the force of Mr. Müller’s life witness. He contends that “the peculiarity” of his method, and the great “publicity” thus obtained, made him the “best advertised man in the Three Kingdoms,” and so money poured in upon him from all quarters. Thus the most conspicuous testimony to a prayer-hearing God, furnished by any one individual in the century, is dismissed with one sweep of the pen, affirming that “there was absolutely nothing in his career which could not be accounted for as the result of purely natural causes.”
In answer I beg to submit twelve facts, all abundantly attested:
- For sixty years and more he carried on a work for God, involving at times an average annual expenditure of $125,000, and never once, privately or publicly, made any direct appeal for money.
- Of all his large staff of helpers no one is ever allowed to mention to an outside party any want of the work, however pressing the emergency.
- Thousands of times correspondents inquired as to the existing wants, but in no case did they receive information, even though at a crisis of need, the object being to prove that it is safe to trust in God alone.
- Reports of the work, annually published, have no doubt largely prompted gifts; but even these cannot account for the remarkable way in which the work has been supported. In order to show that dependence was not placed on these reports, they were not issued in one case, for over two years, yet there was no cessation of supplies.
- The coincidences between the need and the supply can be accounted for on no law of chance or awakened public interest. In thousands of cases the exact sum or supply required has been received at the exact time needed, and when donors could have had no knowledge of the facts.
- The facts spread over too long a time and too broad a field of details to be accounted a wide advertising system. Mr. Müller recorded thousands of cases of prayer for definite blessings, with equally definite answers.
- Many interpositions and deliverances were independent of any human gifts or aid, as when a break in the heating apparatus necessitated a new boiler. No sooner had the repairs begun than a cold north wind set in which risked the health and even the lives of over four hundred orphans living in the house, which there was no other mode of heating. Mr. Müller carried the case to the Father of the fatherless, and the wind shifted to the south and blew soft and warm till the repairs were complete.
- Hundreds of cases occurred, in course of sixty-five years, when there was not food for the next meal, yet God only was appealed to, and never but twice was it needful to postpone a meal, and then only for half an hour! Even direct and systematic appeals to the public could not have brought supplies for hundreds of orphans and helpers with such regularity for all those years.
- Again, the supplies always kept pace with growing wants. Mr. Muller began on a very small scale, and the orphan work was only the last of five departments of the work of the Scriptural Knowledge Institution. Can it be accounted for on any purely natural basis that the popular heart and purse, without even full information of the progress of the five-fold enterprise, responded regularly to its claims?
- Again, many a crisis, absolutely unknown to contributors, was met successfully by adequate supplies, without which, at that very time, the work must have ceased. Once, when a single penny was lacking after all available funds were gathered, that one penny was found in the contribution box, and it was all there was.
- Again, Mr. Müller found that his relations with God always determined the measure of his help from man; unless his fellowship with his Heavenly Father was closely maintained, all else went wrong. The more absolute his dependence on God, his separation unto Him and his faith in Him, the more abundant and manifest His deliverances, so that, as he became more independent of man, he received the more from God through man.
- Since his death in 1898, the work has been carried on by his successors and helpers on the same principles and with the same results. Though his strong personality is removed, the same God honors the same mode of doing His work, independent of the human instruments.
Mr. Müller’s life purpose was to furnish to the world and the Church a simple example of the fact that a man can not only live, but work on a large scale, by faith in the living God; that he has only to trust and pray and obey and God will prove his own faithfulness. The reports were published with sole reference to the work already done, and because donors were entitled to such knowledge of the way in which their money was expended. He never used his reports as appeals for help in work yet to be begun or carried on. Nor was his personal presence or influence necessary, for he traveled for eighteen years in forty-two countries, mentioning his work only at urgent request; and during all this time the work went on just as when at home.
One thing is obvious — there is a wide field still open for experiment. Let those who honestly believe that so great a life work may be entirely accounted for on a natural basis give us a practical proof. Let an institution be founded in some of our great cities similar to that in Bristol. Let there be no direct appeal made to anyone beyond the circulation of annual reports; or let there be the widest advertising of the fact that such a work is carried on, and that dependence is on public aid without direct solicitation. Of course, there must be no prayer, and no acknowledgment of God, lest someone think it to be religious and unscientific, and pious people should be moved to respond! Unbelievers outnumber Christian disciples five to one and the constituency is therefore very large. Let us have the experiment conducted, not on the faith basis, but in strictly scientific method! When we see an infidel carrying on such a work, building five great orphan houses and sustaining over 2,000 orphans from day to day without any direct appeal to human help, yet finding all supplies coming in without even a failure in sixty years, we shall be ready to reconsider our present conviction that it was because the living God heard and helped George Müller, that he who began with a capital of one shilling, took care of more than ten thousand orphans, aided hundreds of missionaries, scattered millions of Bibles and tracts, and in the course of his long life expended about $7,500,000 for God and humanity; and then died with all his possessions valued at less than eight hundred dollars.