The time was now fully come when the divine Husbandman was to glorify Himself by a product of His own husbandry in the soil of Bristol.
On February 20, 1834, George Müller was led of God to sow the seed of what ultimately developed into a great means of good, known as “The Scriptural Knowledge Institution, for Home and Abroad.” As in all other steps of his life, this was the result of much prayer, meditation on the Word, searching of his own heart, and patient waiting to know the mind of God.
A brief statement of the reasons for founding such an institution, and the principles on which it was based, will be helpful at this point. Motives of conscience controlled Mr. Müller and Mr. Craik in starting a new work rather than in uniting with existing societies already established for missionary purposes, Bible and tract distribution, and for the promotion of Christian schools. As they had sought to conform personal life and church conduct wholly to the scriptural pattern, they felt that all work for God should be carefully carried on in exact accordance with His known will, in order to have His fullest blessing. Many features of the existing societies seemed to them extra-scriptural, if not decidedly anti-scriptural, and these they felt constrained to avoid.
For example, they felt that the end proposed by such organizations, namely, the conversion of the world in this dispensation, was not justified by the Word, which everywhere represents this as the age of the outgathering of the church from the world, and not the ingathering of the world into the church. To set such an end before themselves as the world’s conversion would therefore not only be unwarranted by Scripture, but delusive and disappointing, disheartening God’s servants by the failure to realize the result, and dishonoring to God Himself by making Him to appear unfaithful.
Again, these existing societies seemed to Mr. Müller and Mr. Craik to sustain a wrong relation to the world—mixed up with it, instead of separate from it. Any one by paying a certain fixed sum of money might become a member or even a director, having a voice or vote in the conduct of affairs and becoming eligible to office. Unscriptural means were commonly used to raise money, such as appealing for aid to unconverted persons, asking for donations simply for money’s sake and without regard to the character of the donors or the manner in which the money was obtained. The custom of seeking patronage from men of the world and asking such to preside at public meetings, and the habit of contracting debts,—these and some other methods of management seemed so unscriptural and un-spiritual that the founders of this new institution could not with a good conscience give them sanction. Hence they hoped that by basing their work upon thoroughly biblical principles they might secure many blessed results.
First of all, they confidently believed that the work of the Lord could be best and most successfully carried on within the landmarks and limits set up in His word; that the fact of thus carrying it on would give boldness in prayer and confidence in labour. But they also desired the work itself to be a witness to the living God, and a testi- mony to believers, by calling attention to the objectionable methods already in use and encouraging all God’s true servants in adhering to the principles and practices which He has sanctioned.
On March 5th at a public meeting a formal announcement of the intention to found such an institution was accompanied by a full statement of its purposes and principles,11 in substance as follows:
1. Every believer’s duty and privilege is to help on the cause and work of Christ.
2. The patronage of the world is not to be sought after, depended upon, or countenanced.
3. Pecuniary aid, or help in managing or carrying on its affairs, is not to be asked for or sought from those who are not believers.
4. Debts are not to be contracted or allowed for any cause in the work of the Lord.
5. The standard of success is not to be a numerical or financial standard.
6. All compromise of the truth or any measures that impair testimony to God are to be avoided.
Thus the word of God was accepted as counsellor, and all dependence was on God’s blessing in answer to prayer.
The objects of the institution were likewise announced as follows:
1. To establish or aid day-schools, Sunday-schools, and adult-schools, taught and conducted only by believers and on thoroughly scriptural principles.
2. To circulate the Holy Scriptures, wholly or in portions, over the widest possible territory.
3. To aid missionary efforts and assist labourers, in the Lord’s vineyard anywhere, who are working upon a biblical basis and looking only to the Lord for support.
To project such a work, on such a scale, and at such a time, was doubly an act of faith; for not only was the work already in hand enough to tax all available time and strength, but at this very time this record appears in Mr. Müller’s journal: “We have only one shilling left.” Surely no advance step would have been taken, had not the eyes been turned, not on the empty purse, but on the full and exhaustless treasury of a rich and bountiful Lord!
It was plainly God’s purpose that, out of such abundance of poverty, the riches of His liberality should be manifested. It pleased Him, from whom and by whom are all things, that the work should be begun when His servants were poorest and weakest, that its growth to such giant proportions might the more prove it to be a plant of His own right hand’s planting, and that His word might be fulfilled in its whole history:
“I the Lord do keep it: I will water it every moment: Lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day:”
Whatever may be thought as to the need of such a new organization, or as to such scruples as moved its founders to insist even in minor matters upon the closest adherence to scripture teaching, this at least is plain, that for more than half a century it has stood upon its original foundation, and its increase and usefulness have surpassed the most enthusiastic dreams of its founders; nor have the principles first avowed ever been abandoned. With the Living God as its sole patron, and prayer as its only appeal, it has attained vast proportions, and its world-wide work has been signally owned and blessed.
On March 19th Mrs. Müller gave birth to a son, to the great joy of his parents; and, after much prayer, they gave him the name Elijah—”My God is Jah”—the name it- self being one of George Müller’s life-mottoes. Up to this time the families of Mr. Müller and Mr. Craik had dwelt under one roof, but henceforth it was thought wise that they should have separate lodgings.
When, at the close of 1834, the usual backward glance was cast over the Lord’s leadings and dealings, Mr. Müller gratefully recognized the divine goodness which had thus helped him to start upon its career the work with its several departments. Looking to the Lord alone for light and help, he had laid the corner-stone of this “little institution”; and in October, after only seven months’ existence, it had already begun to be established. In the Sunday-school there were one hundred and twenty children; in the adult classes, forty; in the four day-schools, two hundred and nine boys and girls; four hundred and eighty-two Bibles and five hundred and twenty Testaments had been put into circulation, and fifty-seven pounds had been spent in aid of missionary operations. During these seven months the Lord had sent, in answer to prayer, over one hundred and sixty-seven pounds in money, and much blessing upon the work itself. The brothers and sisters who were in charge had likewise been given by the same prayer-hearing God, in direct response to the cry of need and the supplication of faith.
Meanwhile another object was coming into greater prominence before the mind and heart of Mr. Müller: it was the thought of making some permanent provision for fatherless and motherless children.
An orphan boy who had been in the school had been taken to the poorhouse, no longer able to attend on account of extreme poverty; and this little incident set Mr. Müller thinking and praying about orphans. Could not something be done to meet the temporal and spiritual wants of this class of very poor children? Unconsciously to himself, God had set a seed in his soul, and was watching and watering it. The idea of a definite orphan work had taken root within him, and, like any other living germ, it was springing up and growing, he knew not how. As yet it was only in the blade, but in time there would come the ear and the full-grown corn in the ear, the new seed of a larger harvest.
Meanwhile the church was growing. In these two and a half years over two hundred had been added, making the total membership two hundred and fifty-seven; but the enlargement of the work generally neither caused the church life to be neglected nor any one department of duty to suffer declension—a very noticeable fact in this history.
The point to which we have now come is one of double interest and importance, as at once a point of arrival and of departure. The work of God’s chosen servant may be considered as fairly if not fully inaugurated in all its main forms of service. He himself is in his thirtieth year, the age when his divine Master began to be fully manifest to the world and to go about doing good. Through the preparatory steps and stages leading up to his complete mission and ministry to the church and the world, Christ’s humble disciple has likewise been brought, and his fuller career of usefulness now begins, with the various agencies in operation whereby for more than threescore years he was to show both proof and example of what God can do through one man who is willing to be simply the instrument for Him to work with. Nothing is more marked in George Müller, to the very day of his death, than this, that he so looked to God and leaned on God that he felt himself to be nothing, and God everything. He sought to be always and in all things surrendered as a passive tool to the will and hand of the Master Workman.
This point of arrival and of departure is also a point of prospect. Here, halting and looking backward, we may take in at a glance the various successive steps and stages of preparation whereby the Lord had made His servant ready for the sphere of service to which He called, and for which He fitted him. One has only, from this height, to look over the ten years that were past, to see beyond dispute or doubt the divine design that lay back of George Müller’s life, and to feel an awe of the God who thus chooses and shapes, and then uses, His vessels of service.
It will be well, even if it involves some repetition, to pass in review the more important steps in the process by which the divine Potter had shaped His vessel for His purpose, educating and preparing George Müller for His work.
1. First of all, his conversion. In the most unforeseen manner and at the most unexpected time God led him to turn from the error of his way, and brought him to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
2. Next, his missionary spirit. That consuming flame was kindled within him which, when it is fanned by the Spirit and fed by the fuel of facts, inclines to unselfish service and makes one willing to go wherever, and to do whatever, the Lord will.
3. Next, his renunciation of self. In more than one instance he was enabled to give up for Christ’s sake an earthly attachment that was idolatrous, because it was a hindrance to his full obedience and single-eyed loyalty to his heavenly Master.
4. Then his taking counsel of God. Early in his Christian life he formed the habit, in things great and small, of ascertaining the will of the Lord before taking action, asking guidance in every matter, through the Word and the Spirit.
5. His humble and childlike temper. The Father drew His child to Himself, imparting to him the simple mind that asks believingly and trusts confidently, and the filial spirit that submits to fatherly counsel and guidance.
6. His method of preaching. Under this same divine tuition he early learned how to preach the Word, in simple dependence on the Spirit of God, studying the Scriptures in the original and expounding them without wisdom of words.
7. His cutting loose from man. Step by step, all dependence on man or appeals to man for pecuniary support were abandoned, together with all borrowing, running into debt, stated salary, etc. His eyes were turned to God alone as the Provider.
8. His satisfaction in the Word. As knowledge of the Scriptures grew, love for the divine oracles increased, until all other books, even of a religious sort, lost their charms in comparison with God’s own text-book, as explained and illumined by the divine Interpreter.
9. His thorough Bible study. Few young men have ever been led to such a systematic search into the treasures of God’s truth. He read the Book of God through and through, fixing its teachings on his mind by meditation and translating them into practice.
10. His freedom from human control. He felt the need of independence of man in order to complete dependence on God, and boldly broke all fetters that hindered his liberty in preaching, in teaching, or in following the heavenly Guide and serving the heavenly Master.
11. His use of opportunity. He felt the value of souls, and he formed habits of approaching others as to matters of salvation, even in public conveyances. By a word of witness, a tract, a humble example, he sought constantly to lead some one to Christ.
12. His release from civil obligations. This was purely providential. In a strange way God set him free from all liability to military service, and left him free to pursue his heavenly calling as His soldier, without entanglement in the affairs of this life.
13. His companions in service. Two most efficient coworkers were divinely provided: first his brother Craik so like-minded with himself, and secondly, his wife, so peculiarly God’s gift, both of them proving great aids in working and in bearing burdens of responsibility.
14. His view of the Lord’s coming. He thanked God for unveiling to him that great truth, considered by him as second to no other in its influence upon his piety and usefulness; and in the light of it he saw clearly the purpose of this gospel age, to be not to convert the world but to call out from it a believing church as Christ’s bride.
15. His waiting on God for a message. For every new occasion he asked of Him a word in season; then a mode of treatment, and unction in delivery; and, in godly simplicity and sincerity, with the demonstration of the Spirit, he aimed to reach the hearers.
16. His submission to the authority of the Word. In the light of the holy oracles he reviewed all customs, however ancient, and all traditions of men, however popular, submitted all opinions and practices to the test of Scripture, and then, regardless of consequences, walked according to any new light God gave him.
17. His pattern of church life. From his first entrance upon pastoral work, he sought to lead others only by himself following the Shepherd and Bishop of Souls. He urged the assembly of believers to conform in all things to New Testament models so far as they could be clearly found in the Word, and thus reform all existing abuses.
18. His stress upon voluntary offerings. While he courageously gave up all fixed salary for himself, he taught that all the work of God should be maintained by the freewill gifts of believers, and that pew-rents promote invidious distinctions among saints.
19. His surrender of all earthly possessions. Both himself and his wife literally sold all they had and gave alms, henceforth to live by the day, hoarding no money even against a time of future need, sickness, old age, or any other possible crisis of want.
20. His habit of secret prayer. He learned so to prize closet communion with God that he came to regard it as his highest duty and privilege. To him nothing could compensate for the lack or loss of that fellowship with God and meditation on His word which are the support of all spiritual life.
21. His jealousy of his testimony. In taking oversight of a congregation he took care to guard himself from all possible interference with fulness and freedom of utterance and of service. He could not brook any restraints upon his speech or action that might compromise his allegiance to the Lord or his fidelity to man.
22. His organizing of work. God led him to project a plan embracing several departments of holy activity, such as the spreading of the knowledge of the word of God everywhere, and the encouraging of world-wide evangelization and the Christian education of the young; and to guard the new Institution from all dependence on worldly patronage, methods, or appeals.
23. His sympathy with orphans. His loving heart had been drawn out toward poverty and misery everywhere, but especially in the case of destitute children bereft of both parents; and familiarity with Francke’s work at Halle suggested similar work at Bristol.
24. Beside all these steps of preparation, he had been guided by the Lord from his birthplace in Prussia to London, Teignmouth, and Bristol in Britain, and thus the chosen vessel, shaped for its great use, had by the same divine Hand been borne to the very place where it was to be of such signal service in testimony to the Living God.
Surely no candid observer can survey this course of divine discipline and preparation, and remember how brief was the period of time it covers, being less than ten years, and mark the many distinct steps by which this education for a life of service was made singularly complete, without a feeling of wonder and awe. Every prominent feature, afterward to appear conspicuous in the career of this servant of God, was anticipated in the training whereby he was fitted for his work and introduced to it. We have had a vivid vision of the divine Potter sitting at His wheel, taking the clay in His hands, softening its hardness, subduing it to His own will; then gradually and skilfully shaping from it the earthen vessel; then baking it in His oven of discipline till it attained the requisite solidity and firmness, then filling it with the rich treasures of His word and Spirit, and finally setting it down where He would have it serve His special uses in conveying to others the excellency of His power!
To lose sight of this sovereign shaping Hand is to miss one of the main lessons God means to teach us by George Müller’s whole career. He himself saw and felt that he was only an earthen vessel; that God had both chosen and filled him for the work he was to do; and, while this conviction made him happy in his work, it made him humble, and the older he grew the humbler he became. He felt more and more his own utter insufficiency. It grieved him that human eyes should ever turn away from the Master to the servant, and he perpetually sought to avert their gaze from himself to God alone. “For of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things—to Whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
There are several important episodes in Mr. Müller’s history which may be lightly passed by, because not so characteristic of him as that they might not have been common to many others, and therefore not constituting features so distinguishing this life from others as to make it a special lesson to believers.
For example, early in 1835 he made a visit to Germany upon a particular errand. He went to aid Mr. Groves, who had come from the East Indies to get missionary recruits, and who asked help of him, as of one knowing the language of the country, in setting the claims of India before German brethren, and pleading for its unsaved millions.
When Mr. Müller went to the alien office in London to get a passport, he found that, through ignorance, he had broken the law which required every alien semiannually to renew his certificate of residence, under penalty of fifty pounds fine or imprisonment. He confessed to the officer his non-compliance, excusing himself only on the ground of ignorance, and trusted all consequences with God, who graciously inclined the officer to pass over his non-compliance with the law. Another hindrance which still interfered with obtaining his passport, was also removed in answer to prayer; so that at the outset he was much impressed with the Lord’s sanction of his undertaking.
His sojourn abroad continued for nearly two months, during which time he was at Paris, Strasburg, Basle, Tubingen, Würtemberg, Schaffhausen, Stuttgart, Halle, Sandersleben, Aschersleben, Heimersleben, Halberstadt, and Hamburg. At Halle, calling on Dr. Tholuck after seven years of separation, he was warmly welcomed and constrained to lodge at his house. From Dr. Tholuck he heard many delightful incidents as to former fellow students who had been turned to the Lord from impious paths, or had been strengthened in their Christian faith and devotion. He also visited Francke’s orphan houses, spending an evening in the very room where God’s work of grace had begun in his heart, and meeting again several of the same little company of believers that in those days had prayed together.
He likewise gave everywhere faithful witness to the Lord. While at his father’s house the way was opened for him to bear testimony indirectly to his father and brother. He had found that a direct approach to his father upon the subject of his soul’s salvation only aroused his anger, and he therefore judged that it was wiser to refrain from a course which would only repel one whom he desired to win. An unconverted friend of his father was visiting him at this time, before whom he put the truth very frankly and fully, in the presence of both his father and brother, and thus quite as effectively gave witness to them also. But he was especially moved to pray that he might by his whole life bear witness at his home, manifesting his love for his kindred and his own joy in God, his satisfaction in Christ, and his utter indifference to all former fascinations of a worldly and sinful life, through the supreme attraction he found in Him; for this, he felt sure, would have far more influence than any mere words: our walk counts for more than our talk, always.
The effect was most happy. God so helped the son to live before the father that, just before his leaving for England, he said to him: “My son, may God help me to follow your example, and to act according to what you have said to me!”
On June 22, 1835, Mr. Müller’s father-in-law, Mr. Groves, died; and both of his own children were very ill, and four days later little Elijah was taken. Both parents had been singularly prepared for these bereavements, and were divinely upheld. They had felt no liberty in prayer for the child’s recovery, dear as he was; and grandfather and grandson were laid in one grave. Henceforth Mr. and Mrs. Müller were to have no son, and Lydia was to remain their one and only child.
About the middle of the following month, Mr. Müller was quite disabled from work by weakness of the chest, which made necessary rest and change. The Lord tenderly provided for his need through those whose hearts He touched, leading them to offer him and his wife hospitalities in the Isle of Wight, while at the same time money was sent him which was designated for ‘a change of air.’ On his thirtieth birthday, in connection with specially refreshing communion with God, and for the first time since his illness, there was given him a spirit of believing prayer for his own recovery; and his strength so rapidly grew that by the middle of October he was back in Bristol.
It was just before this, on the ninth of the same month, that the reading of John Newton’s Life stirred him up to bear a similar witness to the Lord’s dealings with himself. Truly there are no little things in our life, since what seems to be trivial may be the means of bringing about results of great consequence. This is the second time that a chance reading of a book had proved a turning-point with George Müller. Franke’s life stirred his heart to begin an orphan work, and Newton’s life suggested the narrative of the Lord’s dealings. To what is called an accident are owing, under God, those pages of his life-journal which read like new chapters in the Acts of the Apostles, and will yet be so widely read, and so largely used of God.
11 Appendix D. Journal I. 107-113.