Chapter XXIV Last Looks, Backward And Forward

The mountain-climber, at the sunset hour, naturally takes a last lingering look backward at the prospect visible from the lofty height, before he begins his descent to the valley. And, before we close this volume, we as naturally cast one more glance backward over this singularly holy and useful life, that we may catch further inspiration from its beauty and learn some new lessons in holy living and unselfish serving.

George Müller was divinely fitted for, fitted into his work, as a mortise fits the tenon, or a ball of bone its socket in the joint. He had adaptations, both natural and gracious, to the life of service to which he was called, and these adaptations made possible a career of exceptional sanctity and service, because of his complete self-surrender to the will of God and his childlike faith in His word.

Three qualities or characteristics stand out very conspicuous in him: truth, faith, and love. Our Lord frequently taught His disciples that the childlike spirit is the soul of discipleship, and in the ideal child these three traits are central. Truth is one centre, about which revolve childlike frankness and sincerity, genuineness and simplicity. Faith is another, about which revolve confidence and trust, docility and humility. Love is another centre, around which gather unselfishness and generosity, gentleness and restfulness of spirit. In the typical or perfect child, therefore, all these beautiful qualities would coexist, and, in proportion as they are found in a disciple, is he worthy to be called a child of God.

In Mr. Müller these traits were all found and conjoined in a degree very seldom found in any one man, and this fact sufficiently recounts for his remarkable likeness to Christ and fruitfulness in serving God and man. No pen-portrait of him which fails to make these features very prominent can either be accurate in delineation or warm in colouring. It is difficult to overestimate their importance in their relation to what George Müller was and did.

Truth is the corner-stone of all excellence, for without it nothing else is true, genuine, or real. From the hour of his conversion his truthfulness was increasingly dominant and apparent. In fact, there was about him a scrupulous exactness which sometimes seemed unnecessary. One smiles at the mathematical precision with which he states facts, giving the years, days, and hours since he was brought to the knowledge of God, or since he began to pray for some given object; and the pounds, shillings, pence, halfpence, and even farthings that form the total sum expended for any given purpose. We see the same conscientious exactness in the repetitions of statements, whether of principles or of occurrences, which we meet in his journal, and in which oftentimes there is not even a change of a word. But all this has a significance. It inspires absolute confidence in the record of the Lord’s dealings.

First, because it shows that the writer has disciplined himself to accuracy of statement. Many a falsehood is not an intentional lie, but an undesigned inaccuracy. Three of our human faculties powerfully affect our veracity, one is memory, another is imagination, and another is conscience. Memory takes note of facts, imagination colours facts with fancies, and conscience brings the moral sense to bear in sifting the real from the unreal. Where conscience is not sensitive and dominant, memory and imagination will become so confused that facts and fancies will fail to be separated. The imagination will be so allowed to invest events and experiences with either a halo of glory or a cloud of prejudice that the narrator will constantly tell, not what he clearly sees written in the book of his remembrance, but what he beholds painted upon the canvas of his own imagination. Accuracy will be, half unconsciously perhaps, sacrificed to his own imaginings; he will exaggerate or depreciate—as his own impulses lead him; and a man who would not deliberately lie may thus be habitually untrustworthy: you cannot tell, and often he cannot tell, what the exact truth would be, when all the unreality with which it has thus been invested is dissipated like the purple and golden clouds about a mountain, leaving the bare crag of naked rock to be seen, just as it is in itself.

George Müller felt the immense importance of exact statement. Hence he disciplined himself to accuracy. Conscience presided over his narrative, and demanded that everything else should be scrupulously sacrificed to veracity. But, more than this, God made him, in a sense, a man without imagination—comparatively free from the temptations of an enthusiastic temperament. He was a mathematician rather than a poet, an artisan rather than an artist, and he did not see things invested with a false halo. He was deliberate, not impulsive; calm and not excitable. He naturally weighed every word before he spoke, and scrutinized every statement before he gave it form with pen or tongue. And therefore the very qualities that, to some people, may make his narrative bare of charm, and even repulsively prosaic, add to its value as a plain, conscientious, unimaginative, unvarnished, and trustworthy statement of facts. Had any man of a more poetic mind written that journal, the reader would have found himself constantly and unconsciously making allowance for the writer’s own enthusiasm, discounting the facts, because of the imaginative colouring. The narrative might have been more readable, but it would not have been so reliable; and, in this story of the Lord’s dealings, nothing was so indispensable as exact truth. It would be comparatively worthless, were it not undeniable. The Lord fitted the man who lived that life of faith and prayer, and wrote that life-story, to inspire confidence, so that even skeptics and doubters felt that they were reading, not a novel or a poem, but a history.

Faith was the second of these central traits in George Müller, and it was purely the product of grace. We are told, in that first great lesson on faith in the Scripture, that (Genesis 15:6) Abram believed in Jehovah—literally, Amened Jehovah. The word “Amen” means not ‘Let it be so,’ but rather ‘it shall he so.’ The Lord’s word came to Abram, saying this ‘shall not be,’ but something else ‘shall be’; and Abram simply said with all his heart, ‘Amen’—’it shall be as God hath said.’ And Paul seems to be imitating Abram’s faith when, in the shipwreck off Malta, he said, “I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me.” That is faith in its simplest exercise and it was George Müller’s faith. He found the word of the Lord in His blessed Book, a new word of promise for each new crisis of trial or need; he put his finger upon the very text and then looked up to God and said: “Thou hast spoken. I believe.” Persuaded of God’s unfailing truth, he rested on His word with unwavering faith, and consequently he was at peace.

Nothing is more noticeable, in the entire career of this man of God, reaching through sixty-five years, than the steadiness of his faith and the steadfastness it gave to his whole character. To have a word of God was enough. He built upon it, and, when floods came and beat against that house, how could it fall! He was never confounded nor obliged to flee. Even the earthquake may shake earth and heaven, but it leaves the true believer the inheritor of a kingdom which cannot be moved; for the object of all such shaking is to remove what can be shaken, that what cannot be shaken may remain.

If Mr. Müller had any great mission, it was not to found a world-wide institution of any sort, however useful in scattering Bibles and books and tracts, or housing and feeding thousands of orphans, or setting up Christian schools and aiding missionary workers. His main mission was to teach men that it is safe to trust God’s word, to rest implicitly upon whatever He hath said, and obey explicitly whatever He has bidden; that prayer offered in faith, trusting His promise and the intercession of His dear Son, is never offered in vain; and that the life lived by faith is a walk with God, just outside the very gates of heaven.

Love, the third of that trinity of graces, was the other great secret and lesson of this life. And what is love? Not merely a complacent affection for what is lovable, which is often only a half-selfish taking of pleasure in the society and fellowship of those who love us. Love is the principle of unselfishness: love ‘seeketh not her own’; it is the preference of another’s pleasure and profit over our own, and hence is exercised toward the unthankful and unlovely, that it may lift them to a higher level. Such love is benevolence rather than complacence, and so it is “of God,” for He loveth the unthankful and the evil: and he that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. Such love is obedience to a principle of unselfishness, and makes self-sacrifice habitual and even natural. While Satan’s motto is ‘Spare thyself!’ Christ’s motto is ‘Deny thyself!’ The sharpest rebuke ever administered by our Lord was that to Peter when he became a Satan by counselling his Master to adopt Satan’s maxim.37 “We are bidden by Paul, Remember Jesus Christ,38and by Peter, “Follow His steps.”39If we seek the inmost meaning of these two brief mottoes, we shall find that, about Jesus Christ’s character, nothing was more conspicuous than the obedience of faith and self-surrender to God; and in His career, which we are bidden to follow, the renunciation of love, or self-sacrifice for man. The taunt was sublimely true: “He saved others, Himself He cannot save”; it was because he saved others that He could not save Himself. The seed must give up its own life for the sake of the crop; and he who will be life to others must, like his Lord, consent to die.

Here is the real meaning of that command, “Let him deny himself and take up his cross.” Self-denial is not cutting off an indulgence here and there, but laying the axe at the root of the tree of self, of which all indulgences are only greater or smaller branches. Self-righteousness and self-trust, self-seeking and self-pleasing, self-will, self-defence, self-glory—these are a few of the myriad branches of that deeply rooted tree. And what if one or more of these be cut off, if such lopping off of some few branches only throws back into others the self-life to develop more vigorously in them?

And what is cross-bearing? We speak of our ‘crosses’— but the word of God never uses that word in the plural, for there is but one cross—the cross on which the self-life is crucified, the cross of voluntary self-renunciation. How did Christ come to the cross? We read in Philippians the seven steps of his descent from heaven to Calvary. He had everything that even the Son of God could hold precious, even to the actual equal sharing of the glory of God. Yet for man’s sake what did he do? He did not hold fast even His equality with God, He emptied Himself, took on Him the form of a servant, was made in the likeness of fallen humanity; even more than this, He humbled Himself even as a man, identifying Himself with our poverty and misery and sin; He accepted death for our sakes, and that, the death of shame on the tree of curse. Every step was downward until He who had been worshipped by angels was reviled by thieves, and the crown of glory was displaced by the crown of thorns! That is what the cross meant to Him. And He says: “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up the cross and follow Me.” This cross is not forced upon us as are many of the little vexations and trials which we call ‘our crosses’; it is taken up by us, in voluntary self-sacrifice for His sake. We choose self-abnegation, to lose our life in sacrifice that we may find it again in service. That is the self-oblivion of love. And Mr. Müller illustrated it. From the hour when he began to serve the Crucified One he entered more and more fully into the fellowship of His sufferings, seeking to be made conformable unto His death. He gave up fortune-seeking and fame-seeking; he cut loose from the world with its snares and joys; he separated himself from even its doubtful practices, he tested even churchly traditions and customs by the word of God, and step by step conformed to the pattern showed in that word. Every such step was a new self-denial, but it was following Him. He chose voluntary poverty that others might be rich, and voluntary loss that others might have gain. His life was one long endeavour to bless others, to be the channel for conveying God’s truth and love and grace to them. Like Paul he rejoiced in such sufferings for others, because thus he filled up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in his flesh for His body’s sake which is the church.40 And unless Love’s voluntary sacrifice be taken into account, George Müller’s life will still remain an enigma. Loyalty to truth, the obedience of faith, the sacrifice of love—these form the threefold key that unlocks to us all the closed chambers of that life, and these will, in another sense, unlock any other life to the entrance of God, and present to Him an open door into all departments of one’s being. George Müller had no monopoly of holy living and holy serving. He followed his Lord, both in self-surrender to the will of God and in self-sacrifice for the welfare of man, and herein lay his whole secret.

To one who asked him the secret of his service he said: “There was a day when I died, utterly died; and, as he spoke, he bent lower and lower until he almost touched the floor—”died to George Müller, his opinions, preferences, tastes and will—died to the world, its approval or censure—died to the approval or blame even of my brethren and friends—and since then I have studied only to show myself approved unto God.”

When George Müller trusted the blood for salvation, he took Abel’s position; when he undertook a consecrated walk he took Enoch’s; when he came into fellowship with God for his life-work he stood beside Noah; when he rested only on God’s word, he was one with Abraham; and when he died to self and the world, he reached the self-surrender of Moses.

The godlike qualities of this great and good man made him none the less a man. His separation unto God implied no unnatural isolation from his fellow mortals. Like Terence, he could say: “I am a man, and nothing common to man is foreign to me.” To be well known, Mr. Müller needed to be known in his daily, simple, home life. It was my privilege to meet him often, and in his own apartment at Orphan House No. 3. His room was of medium size, neatly but plainly furnished, with table and chairs, lounge and writing-desk, etc. His Bible almost always lay open, as a book to which he continually resorted.

His form was tall and slim, always neatly attired, and very erect, and his step firm and strong. His countenance, in repose, might have been thought stern, but for the smile which so habitually lit up his eyes and played over his features that it left its impress on the lines of his face. His manner was one of simple courtesy and unstudied dignity: no one would in his presence, have felt like vain trifling, and there was about him a certain indescribable air of authority and majesty that reminded one of a born prince; and yet there was mingled with all this a simplicity so childlike that even children felt themselves at home with him. In his speech, he never quite lost that peculiar foreign quality, known as accent, and he always spoke with slow and measured articulation, as though a double watch were set at the door of his lips. With him that unruly member, the tongue, was tamed by the Holy Spirit, and he had that mark of what James calls a ‘perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.’

Those who knew but little of him and saw him only in His serious moods might have thought him lacking in that peculiarly human quality, humour. But neither was he an ascetic nor devoid of that element of innocent appreciation of the ludicrous and that keen enjoyment of a good story which seem essential to a complete man. His habit was sobriety, but he relished a joke that was free of all taint of uncleanness and that had about it no sting for others. To those whom he best knew and loved he showed his true self, in his playful moods,—as when at Ilfracombe, climbing with his wife and others the heights that overlook the sea, he walked on a little in advance, seated himself till the rest came up with him, and then, when they were barely seated, rose and quietly said, “Well now, we have had a good rest, let us go on.” This one instance may suffice to show that his sympathy with his divine Master did not lessen or hinder his complete fellow feeling with man. That must be a defective piety which puts a barrier between a saintly soul and whatsoever pertains to humanity. He who chose us out of the world sent us back into it, there to find our sphere of service; and in order to such service we must keep in close and vital touch with human beings as did our divine Lord Himself.

Service to God was with George Müller a passion. In the month of May, 1897, he was persuaded to take at Huntly a little rest from his constant daily work at the orphan houses. The evening that he arrived he said, What opportunity is there here for services for the Lord? When it was suggested to him that he had just come from continuous work, and that it was a time for rest, he replied that, being now free from his usual labours, he felt he must be occupied in some other way in serving the Lord, to glorify whom was his object in life. Meetings were accordingly arranged and he preached both at Huntly and at Teignmouth.

As we east this last glance backward over this life of peculiar sanctity and service, one lesson seems written across it in unmistakable letters: prevailing prayer. If a consecrated human life is an example used by God to teach us the philosophy of holy living, then this man was meant to show us how prayer, offered in simple faith, has power with God.

One paragraph of Scripture conspicuously presents the truth which George Müller’s living epistle enforces and illustrates; it is found in James v. 16-18:

“The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much,” is the sentence which opens the paragraph. No translation has ever done it justice. Rotherham renders it: “Much avails a righteous man’s supplication, working inwardly.” The Revised Version translates, “avails much in its working.” The difficulty of translating lies not in the obscurity but in the fulness of the meaning of the original. There is a Greek middle participle here ( ejnergoumevnh), which may indicate “either the cause or the time of the effectiveness of the prayer,” and may mean, through its working, or while it is actively working. The idea is that such prayer has about it supernatural energy. Perhaps the best key to the meaning of these ten words is to interpret them in the light of the whole paragraph:

“Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain; and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.”

Two things are here plainly put before us: first, that Elijah was but a man, of like nature with other men and subject to all human frailties and infirmities; and, secondly, that this man was such a power because he was a man of prayer: he prayed earnestly; literally “he prayed with prayer”; prayed habitually and importunately. No man can read Elijah’s short history as given in the word of God, without seeing that he was a man like ourselves. Under the juniper-tree of doubt and despondency, he complained of his state and wished he might die. In the cave of a morbid despair, he had to be met and subdued by the vision of God and by the still, small voice. He was just like other men. It was not, therefore, because he was above human follies and frailties, but because he was subject to them, that he is held up to us as an encouraging example of power that prevails in prayer. He laid hold of the Almighty Arm because he was weak, and he kept hold because to lose hold was to let weakness prevail. Nevertheless, this man, by prayer alone, shut up heaven’s floodgates for three years and a half, and then by the same key unlocked them. Yes, this man tested the meaning of those wonderful words: concerning the work of My hands command ye Me.” (Isaiah 45:11.) God put the forces of nature for the time under the sway of this one man’s prayer—one frail, feeble, foolish mortal locked and unlocked the springs of waters, because he held God’s key.

George Müller was simply another Elijah. Like him, a man subject to all human infirmities, he had his fits of despondency and murmuring, of distrust and waywardness; but he prayed and kept praying. He denied that he was a miracle-worker, in any sense that implies elevation of character and endowment above other fellow disciples, as though he were a specially privileged saint; but in a sense he was a miracle-worker, if by that is meant that he wrought wonders impossible to the natural and carnal man. With God all things are possible, and so are they declared to be to him that believeth. God meant that George Müller, wherever his work was witnessed or his story is read, should be a standing rebuke, to the practical impotence of the average disciple. While men are asking whether prayer can accomplish similar wonders as of old, here is a man who answers the question by the indisputable logic of facts. Powerlessness always means prayerlessness. It is not necessary for us to be sinlessly perfect, or to be raised to a special-dignity of privilege and endowment, in order to wield this wondrous weapon of power with God; but it is necessary that we be men and women of prayer—habitual, believing, importunate prayer.

George Müller considered nothing too small to be a subject of prayer, because nothing is too small to be the subject of God’s care. If He numbers our hairs, and notes a sparrow’s fall, and clothes the grass in the field, nothing about His children is beneath His tender thought. In every emergency, his one resort was to carry his want to his Father. When, in 1858, a legacy of five hundred pounds was, after fourteen months in chancery, still unpaid, the Lord was besought to cause this money soon to be placed in his hands; and he prayed that legacy out of the bonds of chancery as prayer, long before, brought Peter out of prison. The money was paid contrary to all human likelihood, and with interest at four per cent. When large gifts were proffered, prayer was offered for grace to know whether to accept or decline, that no money might be greedily grasped at for its own sake; and he prayed that, if it could not be accepted without submitting to conditions which were dishonouring to God, it might be declined so graciously, lovingly, humbly, and yet firmly, that the manner of its refusal and return might show that he was acting, not in his own behalf, but as a servant under the authority of a higher Master.

These are graver matters and might well be carried to God for guidance and help. But George Müller did not stop here. In the lesser affairs, even down to the least, he sought and received like aid. His oldest friend, Robert C. Chapman of Barnstaple, gave the writer the following simple incident:

In the early days of his love to Christ, visiting a friend, and seeing him mending a quill pen, he said: “Brother H—, do you pray to God when you mend your pen?”

The answer was: “It would be well to do so, but I cannot say that I do pray when mending my pen.” Brother Müller replied: “I always do, and so I mend my pen much better.”

As we cast this last backward glance at this man of God, seven conspicuous qualities stand out in him, the combination of which made him what he was: Stainless uprightness, child-like simplicity, business-like precision, tenacity of purpose, boldness of faith, habitual prayer, and cheerful self-surrender. His holy living was a necessary condition of his abundant serving, as seems so beautifully hinted in the seventeenth verse of the ninetieth Psalm:

“Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us, And establish Thou the work of our hands upon us.”

How can the work of our hands be truly established by the blessing of our Lord, unless His beauty also is upon us—the beauty of His holiness transforming our lives and witnessing to His work in us?

So much for the backward look. We must not close without a forward look also. There are two remarkable sayings of our Lord which are complements to each other and should be put side by side:

“If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.”

“If any man serve Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be. If any man serve Me, him will My Father honour.”

One of these presents the cross, the other the crown; one the renunciation, the other the compensation. In both cases it is, Let him follow Me”; but in the second of these passages the following of Christ goes further than the cross of Calvary; it reaches through the sepulchre to the Resurrection Life, the Forty Days’ Holy Walk in the Spirit, the Ascension to the Heavenlies, the session at the Eight Hand of God, the Reappearing at His Second Coming, and the fellowship of His final Reign in Glory. And two compensations are especially made prominent: first, the Eternal Home with Christ; and, second the Exalted Honour from the Father. We too often look only at the cross and the crucifixion, and so see our life in Christ only in its oneness with Him in suffering and serving; we need to look beyond and see our oneness with Him in recompense and reward, if we are to get a complete view of His promise and our prospect. Self-denial is not so much an impoverishment as a postponement: we make a sacrifice of a present good for the sake of a future and greater good. Even our Lord Himself was strengthened to endure the cross and despise the shame by the joy that was set before Him and the glory of His final victory. If there were seven steps downward in humiliation, there are seven upward in exaltation, until beneath His feet every knee shall bow in homage, and every tongue confess His universal Lordship. He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill all things.

George Müller counted all as loss that men count gain, but it was for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus, his Lord. He suffered the loss of all things and counted them as dung, but it was that he might win Christ and be found in Him; that he might know Him, and not only the fellowship of His sufferings and conformity to His death, but the power of His resurrection, conformity to His life, and fellowship in His glory. He left all behind that the world values, but he reached forth and pressed forward toward the goal, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. “Let us, therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded.”

When the Lord Jesus was upon earth, there was one disciple whom He loved, who also leaned on His breast, having the favoured place which only one could occupy. But now that He is in heaven, every disciple may be the loved one, and fill the favoured place, and lean on His bosom. There is no exclusive monopoly of privilege and blessing. He that follows closely and abides in Him knows the peculiar closeness of contact, the honour of intimacy, that are reserved for such as are called and chosen and faithful, and follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth. God’s self-denying servants are on their way to the final sevenfold perfection, at home with Him, and crowned with honour:

      “And there shall be no more curse;

      But the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it;

      And His servants shall serve Him;

      And they shall see His face;

      And His name shall be in their foreheads.

      And there shall be no night there,

      And they shall reign for ever and ever.” Amen!

37 Matt. 16

38 2 Tim. 2 (Greek)

39 1 Pet. 2:21

40 Coloss. 1:24