Monday, October 02, 2006

Trusting God: A Historical Account

“In May of 1851 [George Müller] decided to go ahead with his plans for expansion [of the orphanage], and began to pray that God would provide him with the necessary means- about £35,000, he estimated.”[1] Confronted with this great need Müller wrote, “The greatness of the sum required affords me a kind of secret joy; for the greater the difficulty to be overcome, the more will it be seen to the glory of God, how much can be done by prayer and faith.”[2] Of all the great heroes of the faith George Müller is the most frequently sighted as a main who trusted in God. Indeed he was such a man, but from his life and words we learn not simply that He trusted God in remarkable situations but that we too may have parallel faith in God. For his faith was, as he called it, “ordinary.”

He was born in Kroppenstaedt, Germany on September 27, 1805, and grew up in a non-Christian home. His father was a tax collector and had no desire for or inclinations towards God. Muller says:

My father, a tax collector, educated his children on worldly principles, and my brother and I slipped easily into many sins. Before I was ten years old I had repeatedly stolen government money which was entrusted to my father and forced him to make up the losses.

His father did send him away to divinity school, at the age of eleven, though not out of any desire towards godly knowledge and service, but merely so that he might gain a good living as a pastor and be able to support his father later in life. Divinity school, however, did nothing to deter his sinful behavior.

Studying, reading novels, and indulging in sinful practices were my favorite pastimes.
In November I went on a pleasure trip where I spent six days in sin.

At the age of sixteen he was put in prison until his father sent money for his bail and return trip home. He lived to indulge himself, and even at the death of his mother, when he was fourteen, he felt no regrets for so sinful a life.

My mother suddenly died when I was fourteen years old. That night I played cards until two in the morning, and went to a tavern the next day. Her death made no lasting impression on me. Instead, I grew worse.

Despite this lifestyle, however, God had mercy on the young George Müller and lead him to an old friend named Beta. Beta played a key role in the young man’s conversion by inviting him to a Bible study. Müller’s own words described what he considered to be a strange and overwhelming feeling upon receiving this invite:

When I heard this I felt as if I had found the treasure I had been seeking all my life. We went to the meeting together that evening. I did not understand the joy that believers have in seeing any sinner interested in the things of God, so I apologized for coming. I will never forget the kind answer of that dear brother. He said, ‘Come as often as you please. Our house and hearts are open to you’.

It was on that night that the Lord began, as Müller puts it, “His work of grace”. It was not, however, until meeting a missionary that he would receive salvation.

Hermann Ball was a missionary to the Jews in Poland, something he did at the price of great wealth and comfort, and his example made a strong impression upon George. What would cause a man to give up such wealth and immediate pleasure, to seek something other than his own good? The Lord used this encounter to lead George to give his life fully over to Christ. So it was for George Müller, having spent many years at, and studied much in, the universities and divinity schools, that the sacrifice of a godly man showed more of Christ to him than anything else. He says:

The peace of God which passes all understanding now filled my life.

Muller’s Mission
George Müller undoubtedly had a great love for the orphaned and the poor, they were to become his life ministry: to feed these little ones both spiritually and physically. The first signs, of this love within himself, he found while preaching. In August of 1826 while preaching his first sermon his heart was opened to the destitute. He was requested to preach twice that day and for the first sermon decided to prepare and memorize a “Spiritual Man’s” sermon. But it was his afternoon sermon that struck a chord within his own heart. He says:

I thought that by learning a sermon written by a spiritual man I might minister to the people; so I put the sermon into a suitable form and memorized it. I got through the morning service, but I did not enjoy preaching. I decided to preach the gospel in the afternoon and began by reading the fifth chapter of Matthew. Immediately as I began to teach on, “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit,” I felt the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

The “poor in spirit” were not those who had physical needs of clothing, food, and shelter, but those who needed the gospel message. This was the awakening of Müller’s heart for ministry. He burned with a passion for missions and for sharing the gospel. To take part in missions, however, he needed money to support the endeavor and he needed his father’s consent to go to the German Missionary Institutes; his father refused and begged his son to change his mind. This served as a decisive moment in the man’s life, and he decided to never to ask his father for money again, but instead to rely wholly on the Lord for his support.

The Lord helped me to bear this difficult trial. Although I needed more money than ever before, I decided never to take any more from my father. I still had two more years of seminary left. It seemed wrong to let my father support me when he had no guarantee that I would become what he wanted me to be- a clergyman earning a good living. The Lord enabled me to keep this resolution.

These two important moments (his first sermon and his resolution to not take money) shaped his thinking and living for the rest of his days, and they clearly show: 1) a love for presenting and sharing the Gospel; for evangelism, and 2) for a full reliance on God for the financial means to do the work of the Lord. In fact, it was out of a love for both of these principles that Müller started the Orphanages. He built five large orphan houses, the first one starting in 1834, and cared for 10,024 orphans in his life; all of which came after he discovered the strength in the sovereignty of God!

While recovering from sickness in 1829 Müller spent the summer in the countryside of the town Teignmouth. Here under the influence of a good and godly man he was introduced to the doctrines of grace and developed deep love for the word of God. He writes:

Through the instrumentality of this brother the Lord bestowed a great blessing upon me, for which I shall have cause to thank Him throughout eternity. Before this period I had been much opposed to the doctrines of election, particular redemption, and final persevering grace; so much so that, a few days after my arrival at Teignmouth, I called election a devilish doctrine…I knew nothing about the choice of God’s people, and did not believe that the child of God, when once made so, was safe for ever…But now I was brought to examine these precious truths by the word of God.

As is often the case (or at least should be) for Christians that believe in the sovereignty of God, Müller was strengthened by this truth, and it caused him to rest in the sovereignty of God for the salvation of souls, so that he could freely evangelize without the fear of failure. And, furthermore, it caused him to rest in the sovereignty of God to provide the means for funding His work.

I am not only content simply to be a hammer, an axe, or a saw, in God’s hands; but I shall count it an honor to be taken up and used by Him in any way; and if sinners are converted through my instrumentality, from my inmost soul I will give Him all the glory…

This discovery of the sovereignty of God and this passion for evangelism were the leading cause of his starting the orphanage. He states that the three main goals of the orphanage were 1) “That God may be glorified, should He be pleased to furnish me with the means, in its being seen that it is not a vain thing to trust in Him; and that thus the faith of His children may be strengthened”. 2) “The spiritual welfare of fatherless and motherless children.” 3) “Their temporal welfare.”

Müller never asked for money in supporting the orphan homes, or himself for that matter, but he prayed earnestly and constantly that if God was so pleased to provide the financial means. “The orphan house exists to display that God can be trusted and to encourage believers to take Him at His word.” His main concern was that in doing so He would prove to the world that it is a wise and good thing to trust the Lord in his word. Muller quoted often from Psalm 84:11 “For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” He believed the scriptures without question: no good thing would the Lord withhold. Thus we see his trust in the sovereignty of God over all things!

In the whole course of his ministry George never asked for a single cent from anyone, yet neither he nor the children of the five homes were ever without food. On several occasions the supper table was bare when the children were brought into eat and George sat them down and they all bowed their heads to pray for the meal, which they were not about to eat. On one occasion as he prayed for the children to have milk a man was in the streets walking up to the orphanage doors. The moment George finished praying there was a knock at the door and upon opening it he saw a milk man whose cart had broken down in the street and fearing that the milk would go bad he wondered if the orphans might like to have it. God answered the prayer of faith.

It is not as though God always answers prayers in this way, in fact Müller said himself tha sometimes he had to wait for weeks, months, and even many many years for answers. But it was his faith that did not delay, he always trusted God. Even in the death of his first wife the man evidenced his faith. While preaching her funeral from Psalm 119:68 (“You are good, and what you do is good”) George said:

Perhaps all Christians who have heard me will have no difficulty in giving their hearty assent that “the Lord was good, and doing good” in leaving her to me so long; but I ask these dear Christian friends to go furhter with me, and to say from their hearts, “the Lord was good, and doing good” in the removal of that useful, lovely, excellent wife from her husband, that at the very time when, humanly speaking, He needed her more than ever. While I am saying this, I feel the void in my heart. That lovely one is no more with me, to share my joys and sorrows. Every day I miss her more and more. Everday I see more and more how great her loos to the oprhans. Yet, without an effort, my inmost soul habitually joys in the joy of that loved departed one. Her happiness gives joy to me. My dear daughter and self would not have her back, were it possible to produce it by turn of the hand. God Himself has done it, we are satisfied with Him…[3]

George Müller trusted that when God said, “no good thing will I withhold from them who walk uprightly,” that He meant it. He said, “If He pleases to take my wife, it will be good, like Himself. What I have to do, as His child, is to be satisfied with what my father does that I may glorify Him.”[4]

For us in this day and age it may seem a hard thing to have such faith and trust in the Lord God. We may say that we have it, and we may assure ourselves that we believe He will keep His promise to save us. But in these little things it is not easy for us to have such faith. Lewis B. Smede even confessed upon the death of his own son that he came to realize how little God cared about the “details of His life”.[5] But such is not the case, as is evidenced both from Scripture and from the life of George Müller. But he would not be satisfied if I concluded this study by exalting his extraordinary faith over and against that of the average Christian. He was utterly serious about the fact that all Christians can and should have this same faith and it was for the encouragement of this faith among every Christian that he strated the Orphanage. “My faith,” he said, “is the same faith which is found in every believer. Try it for yourself and you will see the help of God, if you trust in Him.”[6] He even gives us advice on how to attempt this faith and lists four principles.

First, Read the Bible carefully and thoughtfully. For it is in the Bible that we learn the character of God and discover how kind, loving, merciful, wise, and faithful He is. It is through the word of God that we find sure grounds for our trusting in Him.

Secondly, Try to keep your conscience clear. Do your best by discipline and more so by God’s grace to be obedeient to His commands. Certainly this is not because we in anyway bend God’s arm to be faithful to us. It is, rather, an issue of our own state of mind. We are a people of emotions and in this day we all too often think with our feelings. If we feel ourselves in rebellion against God then when our faith in Him is tested we will find ourselves with no hope.

Thirdly, Don’t try to avoid situations where your faith may be tested. Through trials and difficulties our faith in God is strengthened.

Fourthly, Remember that God won’t test you more than you are able to bear. “Be paitent, and He will prove to you how willing He is to help and deliever, the moment it is good for you.”[7]

Take encouragement from the life of George Müller, friends. For here was a man of with great responsibilities and having great needs. But he also had a good God who was greater than all his needs and worries, the same God that we have today. Trust God because He is worthy of trust, because He has evidenced His trustworthiness in the Bible and in history, and because He withholds no good thing from those who walk uprightly.

[1] Roger Steer, George Müller: Delighted in God. (Ross-Shire: Christian Focus, rprnt 2004). 117.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid. 163.
[4] Ibid. 159.
[5] Lewis B. Smede, My God and I: A Spiritual Memoir. (Grand Rapids: Eerdman, rpnt 2003).
[6] Quoted in Steer, 242.
[7] This outline of the principles of faith is taken from Steer, 242.


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