(Taken from Letter to Francis Wayland and published in The Life of Trust, 1878)
My Dear Sir: Your repeated request that I should furnish a brief statement of what I know personally of that extraordinary work of faith connected with the Orphan Houses at Ashley Down, near Bristol, England, is so in accordance with the expressed wish of thousands throughout the land, that, however sorely pressed with other duties, I do not feel at liberty to disregard it; and more especially as it is to introduce to American Christians "The Lord's Dealings With George Müller," — a book the intrinsic merits of which, in so far as it exemplifies the power of a living, active faith, and its peculiar adaptation to meet the wants of God's people in the present age, has, to my mind, no parallel out of the Bible. I rejoice in my heart that a new edition is so soon to be issued from the American press, in an abridged form.
I shall confine myself to a few simple facts, connected with my own personal knowledge, which serve only to confirm all that is stated in the Narrative. The facts themselves need no coloring; the more simply they are stated, the more eloquently do they speak to the head and the heart; the less they are varnished, the brighter they shine. And, as to Mr. Müller himself, anything in the shape of eulogy would be as foreign to good taste, as it would be offensive and painful to one whom the Lord delighteth to honor. Indeed, so sensitive is he on this point, that, if he hears any one speaking of the Orphan Houses as "Mr. Müller's Asylum," he repudiates the thought, and exclaims, "No, they are God's Orphan Houses."
For the last five years my duties have called me frequently to England, Scotland, and Ireland, but I do not remember making one of these preaching tours without hearing more or less of what many called "A standing miracle at Bristol;" — A man sheltering, feeding, clothing, educating, and making comfortable and happy, hundreds of poor orphan children, with no funds of his own, and no possible means of sustenance, save that which God sent him in answer to prayer. Of course, such facts, coming from undoubted authority, and oft-repeated, could not fail to arrest my attention, and cause me to ponder deeply these things in my own heart; and every new fact that came to my ears served only to increase an irrepressible desire to "turn aside and see this great sight."
I confess, on my first visit, in March, 1860, I had reserved to myself a wide margin for deductions and disappointment; but, after a few days of careful investigation, I left Bristol exclaiming, with the Queen of Sheba, "The half had not been told me." Here I saw, indeed, seven hundred orphan children fed and provided for, by the hand of God, in answer to prayer, as literally and truly as Elijah was fed by ravens with meat which the Lord provided. And now, after an absence of nine months, I am here again, moving about among these seven hundred children, examining their writing, and the progress they have made in the various branches of study, and their different kinds of work, — listening to their sweet voices in songs of praise to the God of the orphan, — passing through all parts of these vast buildings, that have been erected for their accommodation, — conducting their family worship, and addressing four hundred of them at one time, and three hundred at another, assembled in their respective dining-halls, the most silent, attentive, and earnest listeners I ever addressed; then enjoying hours of sweet converse, and prayer with Mr. Müller himself, — a privilege for which I shall ever thank God, O, it is good to be here!
But to the Orphan Houses themselves. These are all built of stone, in the most complete and thorough manner. No pains have been spared in rendering them convenient, comfortable, and safe for children, and with special reference to warmth, light, ventilation, and cleanliness; and while all is in good taste, and exceedingly chaste and neat, it is all plain, — nothing for show or ornament. House No. 1 is fitted up for the accommodation of three hundred orphans, No. 2 for four hundred; both completely furnished and completely filled. No. 3, now in the course of erection, with its walls up, and partly under roof, is planned for the accommodation of four hundred and fifty orphans; and so rapidly are applications coming in that nearly four hundred are already registered on their books; so that no sooner will it be completed than, with God's blessing, it will be filled with helpless orphans. The entire cost of these buildings, and the manner of obtaining the funds, I will state in Mr. Müller's own words: "Without any one having been personally applied to for anything by me, the sum of £133,528, 14s. has been given to me for the orphans, as the result of prayer to God, since the commencement of the work, which sum includes the amount received for the building fund, for the houses already built, and the one now in progress."
But if we would have correct views of the entire work, and understand what God is willing to do in answer to the prayer of faith, we must not confine our eyes or thoughts to the seven hundred orphans. There are here in Bristol four day schools for poor children, with three hundred and thirty-nine pupils, instructed by believers upon scriptural principles, and one Sunday school, such as we call, in the United States, "a Mission School," with one hundred and sixty children, besides an adult school in which Christian teachers are employed, two evenings in the week, to teach reading and writing; all these schools have been entirely supported out of the funds sent in answer to prayer. In reference to this adult school, Mr. Müller says: "Those who teach them take the opportunity of speaking to the scholars about the way of salvation, and make remarks on portions of the word of God which may be read; and thus many have been led to care about their souls, and to go regularly to hear the gospel preached." In summing up the results in connection with all these various schools. Sir. Müller thus remarks: "Since March, 1834, there have been 6,945 children in the day schools, 2,952 in the adult schools, and 3,227 in the Sunday schools, making a total of 13,124 souls that have been brought under habitual instruction in the things of God, besides the many thousands in the schools in the various parts of England, Ireland, Scotland, British Guiana, the West Indies, and East Indies, which have been, to a greater or less degree, assisted;" and all too, let the reader remember from funds sent to Mr. Müller in answer to prayer.
Nor is this all. During the past year, and out of the same funds, sent in answer to prayer, there have been expended for the circulation of the Holy Scriptures the sum of £5,681, 13s. 31/2d.; also, more than five thousand pounds, or twenty-five thousand dollars, to aid missionary efforts in various parts of the world; and the total amount received since 1834, to aid the blessed work of missions in home and foreign fields, is £34,495, 3s. 4d. Added to all this is the sum of £8,064, 12s. 61/2d. expended since 1840 for the circulation of religious books and tracts, by which sum 11,493,174 books and tracts have been circulated. Thus we see that for these various objects, disconnected with the orphans, there has been sent in to Mr. Müller, since March, 1834, the sum of £51,777, 14s. 11d., which, added to the sum for the orphans, makes a total of £185,306, 83. 11d.,— nearly one million of dollars, sent to Mr. Müller from various parts of the Christian world, and from thousands who never saw him, all in answer to prayer, to aid him in carrying forward his benevolent work in saving souls and to honor and glorify God.
Is it any wonder that men of little faith, and slow of heart to believe what God says, should look upon all this as a "standing miracle?" But quite otherwise does Mr. Müller regard it. "Think not," says he, in his Narrative, "that I have the gift of faith, that is, that gift of which we read in 1 Cor. xii. 9, mentioned in connection with the 'gifts of healing, the working of miracles,' etc." "It is true," he adds, "that the faith I am enabled to exercise is altogether God's own gift, but it is the self-same faith found in every believer, the growth of which I am most sensible of; for by little and little it has been increasing for the last thirty years."
Now, if it be true that Mr. Müller has received from God no extraordinary gift, beyond that which is common to every believer, it becomes a solemn and momentous question, undone to be pondered deeply and prayerfully, By what means has this ordinary faith in him attained to such marvelous strength? Whence came he in possession of that mysterious key by which he is able to unlock the store-houses of God's treasures, and, as it were, help himself to whatever he needs? Day by day, year after year, doe this man of God receive the most extraordinary answers to prayer, and by which he is able to carry forward the most stupendous and complicated works of benevolence, while the like precious faith in others is so small and feeble as to be utterly powerless in moving God's loving heart in the bestowment of blessings. "Is there not a cause?" And ought not such facts and such questions to startle every believer into the most thorough searchings of heart to discover the cause of his little faith? Let us not attempt, as the manner of some is, to evade the issue, by resolving it all into the sovereignty of God. True it is, God's sovereignty is all-pervading, and as manifest in the Chinese as it is in the British Empire; but were an inquisitive child to inquire into the cause of the difference between the well-developed, elastic foot of an Englishman, and the little dwarfish stump of a Chinese, no Christian parent would consider it a logical or scriptural answer to charge it all upon God's sovereignty. God acts as sovereign in giving to the infant a foot, and certain laws of physical development, in common with its other members; but when the mother, in the pride of her heart, bandages that foot so tight that the laws of development become nugatory and powerless, in that case the sovereignty of God ceased where the bandaging commenced. Just so it is with faith. Being seated with Mr. Müller at his own table, a few evenings since, the subject of faith naturally became the topic of conversation, when he beautifully remarked, "The first germ of faith in the soul is very much like a new-born infant in the cradle, very small and very weak, and its future growth and increase of strength as much depend on its daily, constant exercise as do the physical development of the child; yes," continued he, "I can now as easily trust God for thirty-five thousand pounds as I could at first for five thousand."
Now, may not Mr. Müller's experience on this vital and fundamental principle cf our holy religion reveal to us the secret cause of our own weak faith? We fold it up, as it were, in a napkin, lay it carefully away, and treat it as a tender but foolish mother does her offspring: afraid of the open air, it will take cold; it must not walkout, it will fall and break its limbs; it must not take nutritious food, it is so delicate. Thus the poor, unfortunate child never rises to the full strength and vigor of manhood. So is it with that class of believers who do little else than to nurse and sing a kind of lullaby over their puny faith; it must never venture out of sight, or upon a stormy sea in a dark night, or, in other words, never trust God. O, what a misnomer to call this faith! and what is it worth, even if it can be called faith? So far as the wants of this perishing world are concerned, it is as worthless as the one talent buried in the earth, and if sufficient to save the soul, it can be saved "only as by fire." Let us not fail here to mark well the difference between these two grains of faith, both small and weak at the beginning, but one, by daily vigorous exercise increases and grows into such mighty strength "that as a prince it hath power with God," while the other, for want of exercise, sinks into imbecility, and becomes powerless for good.
Let us notice, also, the circumstances into which Mr. Müller voluntarily threw himself and family, for the very purpose of affording opportunity for the exercise of his faith, — giving away all he possessed, laying by nothing for the future, — thus placing himself and family upon a level with the poorest child, and forcing his faith, as it were, into the severest exercise, by looking to God for daily bread, no less for himself and family than for the seven hundred orphans dependent upon his bounty. Nor can he be persuaded to accept any money, or gifts of any kind, unless with the privilege of laying it at once upon God's altar, to advance the cause and kingdom of his blessed Redeemer. The following facts and correspondence exhibit Mr. Müller's views and real character on this subject.
In October, 1856, a gentleman, in admiration of the services which Mr. Müller had rendered to poor orphans, and to mankind in general, sent him one hundred pounds, as the commencement of a fund for the future maintenance of himself and family. Mr. Müller's reply is so characteristic, and so beautifully exemplifies the simplicity of his childlike faith, that I give it in full: —
"My Dear Sir: I hasten to thank you for your kind communication, and to inform you that your check for one hundred pounds has safely come to hand.
"I have no property whatever, nor has my dear wife; nor have I had one single shilling regular salary as minister of the Gospel for the last twenty-six years, nor as the Director of the Orphan House, and the other objects of the Scriptural Knowledge Institution for Home and Abroad. When I am in need of anything, I fall on my knees, and ask God that he would be pleased to give me what I need; and he puts it into the heart of some one or other to help me. Thus all my wants have been amply supplied during the last twenty-six years, and I can say, to the praise of God, I have lacked nothing. My dear wife, and my only child, a daughter twenty-four years old, are of the same mind with me. Of this blessed way of living none of us are tired, but become day by day more convinced of its blessedness.
"I have never thought it right to make provision for myself, or my dear wife and daughter, except in this way, that when I saw a case of need, such as an aged widow, or a sick person, or a helpless infant, I would use my means freely which God had given me, fully believing that if either myself, or my dear wife or daughter, at some time or other should be in need of anything, God would richly repay what was given to the poor, considering it as lent to himself.
"Under these circumstances I am unable to accept your kindness of the gift of one hundred pounds, towards making a provision for myself and family; for so I understand your letter. Any gift given to me, unasked for, by those who have it in their heart to help me to supply my personal and family expenses, I thankfully accept; or any donation given to me for the work of God in which I am engaged, I also thankfully accept, as a steward for the orphans, etc.; but your kind gift seems to me especially given to make a provision for myself, which I think would be displeasing to my heavenly Father, who has so bountifully given me my daily bread hitherto. But should I have misunderstood tho meaning of your letter, be pleased to let me know it. I hold the check till I hear again from you.
"In the mean time, my dear sir, however you meant your letter. I am deeply sensible of your kindness, and daily pray that God would be pleased richly to recompense you for it, both temporally and spiritually. "I am, dear Sir,
"Yours very gratefully,
Two days after the above letter was written, Mr. Müller received a reply, desiring him to use the one hundred pounds for the orphans, and within five days more he received an additional two hundred pounds, for the benefit of the orphans, from the same individual, who up to that time was unknown to Mr. Müller, nor has he ever seen him since.
Here then we discover the secret of Mr. Müller's strong faith. He will not suffer himself to be placed in a condition where he cannot exercise it at all times and in all places. This is the soil, dear readers, into which Mr. Müller cast his faith, which at the beginning was like a grain of mustard-seed, very small, but now, behold, a great tree, where I see with my own eyes seven hundred little birds lodging in the branches thereof; and so rapidly and vigorously does it shoot out new branches, that in a few months four hundred and fifty more will be warbling their sweet notes of praise beneath its wide-spreading foliage. But this is not all: Mr. Müller not only casts the seed into good soil, but he is careful to keep it well watered with the dews of heaven; and this he does " by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, making known his requests unto God," and by reading and studying the Holy Scriptures; or, as he modestly expressed himself in conversation, "I am habitually given to the reading of the word of God, coupled with meditation on the same; and everything connected with myself or my service I turn into prayer."
Now, most men would consider such a stupendous work as his a reasonable excuse for cutting short their closet duties. Not so with Mr. Müller. It is in the closet, shut up with God and the Bible, that he girds up the loins of his mind, and burnishes his armor for the battles of the day. It is very beautiful also to notice the confidence and childlike simplicity with which he receives everything, and believes every word that God has spoken; and the increased relish and zest with which he daily and hourly returns to God's holy word is very peculiar; as though he was in constant communication with heaven, and receiving fresh letters of instruction and precious promises daily and hourly from his heavenly Father. Hence, he never studied the Bible for others, but for himself, to find out what his Father requires of him; and, studying thus, he seems so impregnated with God's truth, that when he speaks of God, of Christ, of the Holy Spirit, and the great salvation, you are reminded of the words of our Saviour, John vii. 38, for from him seem to flow "rivers of living waters." And the more strikingly does this appear from his primitive style of preaching. Never taking a text, but reading a whole chapter, more or less, he literally teaches his hearers out of the Scriptures, pouring forth such floods of light upon that given passage that his people very soon become mighty in the Scriptures.
His prayers also are as peculiar as his preaching; — great simplicity in language; while humbleness, meekness, gentleness, and fervency of spirit are so manifest, that he recalls to your mind a very dear child, who, having had much forgiven, loves much, and whose tender father, before whom it stands, is so rich, so benevolent, so forgiving, that it asks and obtains great blessings, while the deep sense of its own unworthiness keeps the child's heart very tender and very humble. But the most remarkable feature noticeable in his prayers is the asking of everything in the name, through the merits, and for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ. I do not mean that the fact itself is peculiar, but the great stress he lays upon the honor and glory due to Christ; — Christ's precious blood; Christ our Teacher, our great atoning High Priest; Christ the Resurrection and the Life; Christ the Exalted, Glorified One; Christ our Mediator, Intercessor, and Advocate. To honor and glorify Christ, and magnify his name above every name, seems to be the all-pervading theme which fills his heart and moves his tongue.
But it is not meet that I keep the reader longer from this remarkable narrative of the "Lord's Dealings" with the man himself. In this he tells his own story, and it is marvelous in our eyes. Would that it were translated into every language in Christendom, and might find its way into every family; for, to my mind, it contains the most important, the most instructive and impressive lesson to the child of God that can be found in any uninspired book, the like of which has never appeared since the days of the Apostles. This is no hasty opinion, but a solemn conviction, after days and weeks of diligent search, and the most thorough investigation, in the very city and on the very grounds where these wonderful things have transpired. And if God raised up a Luther, in the sixteenth century, to scatter the clouds and disperse the darkness of that age, and to restore to his people that glorious doctrine of "Justification By Faith," so long buried beneath the rubbish of Papal superstition, why should it be thought a thing incredible that the same glorious God should, in our day, raise up a Müller to rear this "Monument" on Ashley Down, in the face of all Christendom, to prove that the God of the Bible, whom we serve, is still the "Living God," the hearer and answerer of prayer; and that the faith taught by Luther, and by which alone we can be justified before God, is not a dead, but a living, active, practical faith, which has in it the power of an endless life, and a power that can move the heart and the hand of Him who moves the world?
Let the dear people of God in America gaze upon this "Monument," brought to their view in this narrative, till by prayer and supplication they shall obtain for themselves more of the "like precious faith;" that faith without which it is impossible to please God, — that faith that worketh by love and purifieth the heart, — that faith that removes mountains of obstacles out of our path, — that faith that takes hold on God's strength, and is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen. O Lord, bless the reading of this book to the increase of our faith, and the faith of all thy dear children, is the prayer of E. N. Sawtell, Bristol, Dec. 14, 1860.
Since the receipt of the preceding letter, the Editor, in answer to certain inquiries, has been favored with a private communication from Dr. Sawtell, dated London, Dec. 25, 1860, containing additional information of interest relating to Mr. Müller himself and the details of his work, from which the following extracts are made: —
He is tall, rather slender, standing six feet in his boots, and of a remarkably fine figure, with a grave German face, and dark-brownish eyes that kindle into a pleasing benevolent expression in conversation. His dress is the very same in cut and color that he wore in the German university (his coat a long-tail frock), all in black, except the snow-white neck-tie, fastened with a common plain pin in front, the ends hid beneath a waistcoat buttoned up so high as to hide everything but the cravat; making his whole general appearance, whether in the pulpit or in the street, a perfect model of neatness and order. His hair is rather coarse, and black as jet.
He is master of six languages, — Latin, Greek, Hebrew, German, French, and English, — and reads and understands the Dutch, and two or three Oriental languages, but does not profess to be master of them. His attainments in Biblical literature are the most thorough, and I may say the most extraordinary.
It consists of a Hebrew Bible, three Greek Testaments, a Greek Concordance and Lexicon, with some half dozen different versions of the Holy Scriptures, and copies of the best translations into those several languages of which he is master. These constitute his entire library!
He rises early, enters his closet, shuts the door, opens his Bible, offers a short prayer especially to invoke the guidance of God's Spirit upon the reading and meditation of his holy word, then reads and meditates verse by verse, chapter by chapter, till his whole soul becomes impressed with God's presence and impregnated with God's teachings; then he bows himself, and, like Samson, hold of the middle pillars, he wrestles with God, till, like Israel, he prevails. His habit of reading the Scriptures is to go straight and regularly through them, both the Old and New Testaments at the same time; that is, to read in the Old one part of the day, and in the New the other. He has strong objections to that hop, skip, and jump method that some practice in reading the Bible, or the habit of opening it at random. When asked how often he had gone through the Bible in this way, his answer was, "I cannot tell, but probably more than a hundred times." His preaching is altogether expository, reading a whole chapter, or part of one, or parts of two chapters, according to the connection, and then drawing out of the passage such rich treasures, so many things new and old, that I felt it to be worth crossing the Atlantic to hear them. For three Sabbaths I sat under his teachings, and heard him twice each day. Though he invited me to preach for him, I declined, for the very reason that I could not afford to lose the precious opportunity of hearing him. The happy results of his method of preaching are seen in the numbers of men and women connected with his churches who have become mighty in the Scriptures, and are better qualified to expound them, and to guide inquiring souls to Christ, than many a young minister who has spent his three years in a theological seminary. Let no one imagine that this kind of preaching becomes dry and heavy. Never have I listened to more burning words and touching eloquence than occasionally burst from the lips of this man of God, and especially when he turns to the young, and, with all the tenderness and pathos of a loving father, pleads with them "to seek now the Lord while he may be found, and call upon him whilst he is near."
His answer to me was in substance the following: "If I believed it to be sinful, I would smash it all up, though it took ten thousand pounds per annum from the orphans' support. I have searched the Scriptures and made it a subject of prayer. I do not find a command in the Bible against it. I find enough to guide myself in its use; so with my dear wife and daughter. We think a meek, quiet, and humble spirit the best of all ornaments, and the only ornament a Christian needs. But if we lay down a rule and adopt it as a principle to regulate others, consistency would require us not to stop at mere jewelry; other rich and costly articles of dress, etc., must be discarded; and who is wise enough to draw the right line, unless God has spoken explicitly on the subject? No; these things must be regulated from within. The conscience must be kept quickened, and the love of Christ must constrain one in the regulation of these things." Mr. Müller's consistent, prayerful, and godly life, connected with his wonderful study and knowledge of the Bible, gives weight to his opinions on all questions of this kind.
"I have no time," said he, "for that." From his assistants (to whom I am indebted for many facts of a personal nature which Mr. Müller himself would never have disclosed) I learned that the way he kept himself at all posted up with regard to the stirring events of the day was by conversation at table with his associates, teachers, matrons, etc., who were expected to have a little more time for general reading. His morning hours, after his closet duties are over, are spent in his family, opening his letters, packages, etc., marking with his pencil and separating them into such divisions or classes that his three clerks or assistants can understand their respective duties. He reaches the Orphan Houses between ten and eleven o'clock; there he remains till six or seven in the evening, attending to and overseeing a great variety of things. The amount of labor he performs is amazing, and the almost endless variety would render insane, one would think, most other men. Yet he is never ruffled, never looks anxious or out of temper, — always calm and placid, and in a prayerful frame of mind, casting all his cares upon the Lord, who careth for him. I doubt whether I shall ever see his like again this side heaven. If I am not a better man in future, possessing more of the spirit of Christ, more faith, more of the spirit of prayer, and of holy living, for having spent three weeks at his feet, surely my case is a very sad one. indeed. I have not time to say more on this fertile subject at present.
E. N. Sawtell, The Life of Trust: Being A Narrative of the Lord's Dealings with George Müller, (New York: Sheldon & Company, 1878)