~by Randy Bushey – Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful (1 Corinthians 4:2).
Outside the pages of Scripture, few names are instantly associated with the concept of biblical faith like that of George Müller.
It’s taken a century to rediscover the full weight of the man – in the Brethren movement, on his culture, and on the advancement of the Kingdom of the Christ he faithfully and joyfully served.
For Müller, Christian faith was an integrated life system characterized by 3 “P”s: prayer, preaching, and philanthropy.
But his early years were inauspicious. One biographer characterized that period as that of a Prussian playboy1. Subsequent to the death of his mother, Müller embarked on unpromising behaviour and was arrested for unpaid debts; he spent 4 weeks in jail before his 17th birthday.
But once he encountered Christ at age 20, Müller’s life was irrevocably changed – a indisputable product of the transformative power of the Gospel.
He moved to London, and sensed a strong urge to preach the Bible. He encountered like-minded men who, with Müller, became founders of the Brethren movement: Henry Craik, Anthony Norris Groves (brother to Müller’s wife), Robert Chapman, and John Nelson Darby.
His first pastorate was at Ebenezer Chapel on the south coast of England. Müller caused a stir by discontinuing 2 practices, each with significant financial implications: he terminated the practice of renting pews because it favoured the rich; and, he abandoned his pastoral salary.
Shortly thereafter, Müller and Craik pastored together at Bethesda Chapel, one of the earliest assemblies further north in Bristol (yes, the early Brethren had identified pastors!). Müller continued to fellowship there – and regularly preached and participated in the Lord’s Supper – for the rest of his days.
In his mid-20s, he suffered ill health to the point he believed he was dying, but survived to the age of 92, dying in 1898.
A man of extraordinary gifts, Müller followed a stream of advice articulated a century later by Francis Schaeffer: “don’t try to do everything. Every need is not a call”.
But he did sense the Lord’s call to be a significant and historic agent in social change in Victorian England.
Müller was best known for seeking to provide housing, food, and education for orphans in the United Kingdom at a time when children who had lost their parents had limited options. Some institutions accepted children who “qualified”, often by reason of financial support; but most such kids – as portrayed by Charles Dickens in Oliver Twist – were assigned to workhouses, to earn their keep in oppressive labour mills operated on the cheap, but harsh, paradigm of child labour.
The Müllers determined to make a difference, first taking 30 young girls into their own rented home.
Continually looking to the Lord for direction, finances, staff, and food, Müller eventually housed over 2000 boys and girls in 5 large buildings on Ashley Down Road in Bristol, supported by over 200 staff.
In his lifetime, he provided hope and a strong Christian grounding to 10,000 British orphans in addition to supporting 5 Day Schools, and foreign missionaries around the globe (including Hudson Taylor in China).
Müller’s stated policy was to never make an appeal for funds, except through prayer – and he was reluctant to pray publicly for financial needs lest it be interpreted as a subtle plea to human donors. With this “dubious” financial model, it is estimated that over CDN$150 million (at current valuation) was entrusted to Müller by various supporters during his lifetime.
Then at the age of 70 when many of his peers were winding down their vocational life, Müller sensed the Lord leading him to put his primary focus into preaching the Word. So for the next 17 years, he travelled 200,000 miles in a Bible teaching ministry to 42 countries.
But the ever-present thread of prayer founded on faith was constant throughout Müller’s amazingly productive life.
“Wherever God has given faith, it is given, among other reasons, for the very purpose of being tried,”2 he once said.
Consequently, Müller was used by the Lord to dramatically advance His kingdom –through prayer, preaching and philanthropy – in the UK, and throughout the world.
He was once informed by a colleague that his life was “the most wonderful and complete refutation of scepticism” he had encountered.3
Takeaway: Müller’s heartbeat was to be industrious and useful in the service of the Lord Jesus: “I desire many things concerning myself; but I desire nothing so much, as to have a heart filled with love to the Lord. I long for a warm personal attachment to Him.”4
An exemplary life of actionable faith.
1 George Müller – Delighted in God, by Roger Steer, Christian Focus Publications, Ltd, UK
3 George Müller, Steer
~ graphic: By http://www.wheaton.edu/bgc/archives/treasure/tr98/98-01.jpg, Public Domain.