Introduction

 •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 11
But still, the first and primary object of the work was [and still is] that God might be magnified by the fact that the orphans under my care are provided with all they need, only by prayer and faith without anyone being asked by me or my fellow-laborers whereby it may be seen, that God is faithful, still, and hears prayer still.
For as long as I can remember, George Mueller and his extraordinary life of faith have been part of my consciousness. For many Christians, the name evokes stories of orphans whose needs were provided for in the nick of time. Just as the food and milk had run out, a basket of food was left on the doorstep; just as the orphanage bills had to be paid, someone wrote a check to allay impending disaster. Usually, the miracle was like manna in the wilderness, a provision for the day, no more, no less.
Perhaps for many of us, familiar impressions of such tales have led us to believe that we know more about George Mueller’s vision and history than we really do. And, perhaps, while we maintain a warm admiration for the man and a kind of envy for his faith, thinking of him as one writer has said, as “the man who got things from God,” the memory of his story is too often focused on the answers to prayer he experienced without being aware of the lifelong hardships he knew, hardships that make his faith an even greater testimony. Finally, and most important, the extraordinary foundation of his faith in, tenacity for, and knowledge of God can be lost to the public’s penchant for the legendary, dramatic stories.
George Mueller was born on September 27, 1805 in Kroppenstaedt, Prussia. His father, a tax collector, was what has been described as a “worldly man” who oddly gave his sons a great deal of money when they were very young, money they used foolishly. In fact, Mueller spent many of his early years going deeper and deeper into a sinful lifestyle that included lying, stealing (often from his father), gambling, licentiousness, extravagance, and what he has admitted was “gross immorality.” Even his mother’s death did not deter him At sixteen he spent time in prison for defrauding a landLord. Later, he did enter the University of Halle with good testimonials, even earning the right to preach in the Lutheran Church, but he wasted all his money in profligate living accompanied by others like himself. No one could have imagined that he would ever be a man of God.
Then one day a friend invited him to a meeting at the house of a Christian where the friend told Mueller there would be reading of the Bible and a printed sermon, singing, and praying. Strangely, Mueller reported that “no sooner had I heard this but it was to me as if I had found something after which I had been seeking my whole life long.” At the meeting, Mueller was welcomed warmly and found himself deeply moved by the attendees’ habit of falling to their knees in prayer. “I had never seen anyone on his knees,” he wrote, “nor had I ever myself prayed on my knees.”
After this experience, he found that all his former pleasures were as nothing when compared to what had happened at that meeting, and he went to bed peaceful and happy that night. This was the beginning of God’s work of grace in Mueller’s heart, and, while he did not at once feel deep remorse for his sins or completely give up the indulgences and habits he had practiced for so long, a turning point had occurred. He would never go back to what he had been.
In January 1826, after reading missionary literature, he felt led to a life of service. When his father objected angrily to this calling, Mueller began to support himself at the university by teaching German to American college professors and translating lectures for them. He preached his first sermon on August 27, 1826, and lived for two months in the Orphan House built by August Hermann Francke, professor of divinity at Halle where the vision began, one that would be fulfilled in Bristol, England.
In 1829, after graduating from the university, he became a missionary to the Jews under the London Missionary Society. Though well-versed in Hebrew, he was unable to speak English for some time after he landed in England, but he soon became fluent. He was so driven in his study of Hebrew that he became ill and was advised to take a rest. He traveled to Devonshire where he became acquainted with Henry Craik, who would become his associate for many years; he also learned the value of meditation on Scripture, a habit that would change his life. There, too, he began preaching regularly and took a pastorate at Ebenezer Chapel in Teignmouth and Shaldon. While on a preaching assignment, he met his first wife, Mary Groves, and they married in the fall of 1830.
Shortly after their marriage, the couple made the decision to depend on God alone to provide for their needs, even refusing to give the details of those needs when asked. No matter how great their want, Mueller and Mary simply prayed. Early in 1832 Mueller felt led to go to Bristol, preached his first sermon there in April and accepted a call to develop a new work in the city. The Muellers settled permanently in Bristol, their home until they died.
Though George Mueller is most well known for his orphanages, in February 25, 1834, he founded a new missionary organization called “The Scriptural Knowledge Institution for Home and Abroad.” Its objectives were as follows: 1) To assist Sunday schools, day schools, and adult schools, including starting new ones; 2) to sell Bibles and Testaments to the poor at low prices or to give them free of cost; 3) to advance missionary efforts financially; 4) to circulate tracts in English and foreign languages; and 5) to establish orphan houses. It is important to note that Mueller developed all of these objectives.
On December 9, 1835, Mueller presented his calling to start orphanages at a public meeting, where he received his first donation and the offer of physical help. On April 11, 1936, the doors of an orphanage opened with twenty-six girls between the ages of seven and twelve. Other houses later followed. He began the undertaking with only two shillings (fifty cents) in his pocket but received all that he needed to build and to feed the orphans day by day for sixty years.
As one opens the book Answers to Prayer, a compilation of excerpts from George Mueller’s Autobiography of George Mueller, or a Million and a Half in Answer to Prayer, one is greeted with his statement on “How to Ascertain the Will of God.” Before one can pray, he maintains, one’s heart must have “no will of its own in regard to a given matter” because “Nine-tenths of the difficulties are overcome when our hearts are ready to do the Lord’s will.” Such readiness will come primarily by the habit of reading the Word of God and meditating on it. Of course, true as these concepts are, the average Christian has heard them over and over, sometimes to the point of tedium. But often he or she cannot get a picture of what they really mean and may even feel their practice can never be accomplished. What follows is how George Mueller and the team he worked with lived out these familiar principles.
What hits the reader over and over is the brutal honesty with which Mueller examined his motivations daily to make sure there was nothing self-serving or manipulative in his thinking. He did not want to be a user of God or of people. He wanted his ministry to orphans to succeed because God had provided. As he writes, “Through grace we had learned to lean upon the Lord only, being assured, that, if we were never to speak or write one single word more about this work, yet should we be supplied with means, as long as He should enable us to depend on Himself alone.... What better proof, therefore, could we give of our depending upon the living God alone, and not upon public meetings or printed Reports, than that, in the midst of our deep poverty, instead of being glad for the time to have come when we could make known our circumstances, we still went on quietly... without saying anything.”
In an age when Christian organizations, churches, and ministries of all kinds depend on public relations, on public requests of the most sophisticated, visible, and vocal sort, Mueller’s ideas could seem quaint if they were not so profoundly spiritual. The work of the orphanages was God’s, not Mueller’s; he did not want them to go on if God was not the sustainer. And he warned against anyone thinking, as he puts it, “that these things are peculiar to me, and cannot be enjoyed by all the children of God.”
He over and over again notes that he does not want to be seen as “extraordinary.” “Think not, dear reader, that I have the gift of faith... the faith I am enabled to exercise is altogether God’s own gift... the self-same faith which is found in every believer....”
Mueller’s faith extended from great things to small, things we find ourselves joking about because we have been led to think that the details of our lives are too mundane to present to God. He noted that he talked to the Lord when he lost a key or when he found himself frustrated by someone coming late to an appointment or confused about a passage of Scripture. His foundational belief was that “either we trust in God, and in that case we neither trust in ourselves, nor in our fellowmen, not in circumstances, nor in anything besides; or we DO trust in one or more of these, and in that case do NOT trust in God.”
Mueller believed, however, that the trying of his faith made it stronger, and certainly his writing is a testimony to that fact. “I prefer by far this life of almost constant trial,” he said, “if I am only able to roll all my cares upon my Heavenly Father, and thus become increasingly acquainted with Him.” God answered that prayer well. The way did not get easier, the money did not start rolling in; until the end of his life, God chose to supply help on a week-by-week, often a hair-raisingly day-by-day basis. Prayer was the central ingredient in the existence of these orphanages. Whether it was for more property, for the fixing of a boiler, for managing an outbreak of the measles, for the conversion and spiritual growth of the orphans, or for daily bread, Mueller never sent specific details to donors; he prayed, consistently, agonizingly, sincerely, and faithfully. And God answered in a colorful and often unpredictable array of ways, sometimes maddeningly later rather than sooner, but always in time. The reward was, of course, the refreshment of knowing these answers had had nothing to do with anything but God’s intervention. How often does the average Christian know that? We are so prone to want to answer our own prayers.
On March 9, 1898, Mr. Mueller attended the usual meeting for prayer held in Orphan House No. 3, went to his bed and early the next morning died, realizing what he had looked forward to so long, that “to depart and to be with Christ is far better.” Masses of sympathizers and mourners lined the streets, and dense crowds appeared at the cemetery to await the arrival of the funeral company. Flags flew at half-mast everywhere. The city seemed bound to honor a man who had insisted on living only for the glory of God and for the good of others.
Rosalie De Rosset