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Born September 27, 1805 at Kroppenstadt near Halberstadt (Prussia), George Muller was all that and more until his twentieth birthday. At age fourteen, as his mother lay dying, he was too busy playing cards to visit her deathbed. Later, he was seen drunkenly wandering the streets. The victims of his theft included his father, a tax collector for the Prussian government, who often found himself a little short of cash after trusting George with the responsibility of collecting debts from tardy taxpayers. Even when caught, he was unrepentant, continuing his deceitful, dishonest ways. He was the last thing that the clergy needed, but George had plans to become a Lutheran minister. While pursuing that goal at school, he spent the confirmation money that he received from his father on booze and babes. His wildest adventure would land him in prison. Usually accompanied by a woman, George went from hotel to hotel, living the life of a rich, carefree playboy, but without the money to pay the bills he incurred. His father came to his rescue, bailed him out, and paid off his debts, but there were still more misadventures to come. While studying theology at Halle University, he joined three fellow students in forging documents for a trip to Switzerland.


So how did such a bad seed grow into an evangelical Christian philanthropist who selflessly served the Lord and changed the lives of millions?


It happened simply enough. In November 1825, when he was 20-years-old, a friend invited him to a prayer meeting where George heard the good news of John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” 


“I understood something of the reason why the Lord Jesus died on the cross and suffered agonies in the Garden of Gethsemane,” he later wrote, “even that thus, bearing the punishment due to us, we might not have to bear it ourselves. And therefore, apprehending in some measure the love of Jesus for my soul, I was constrained to love Him in return.”


Seeing the others in attendance kneel to pray had a profound effect on the young man. He had never knelt in prayer before, and the sense of peace, joy, and humility that they radiated left him deeply moved. Suddenly, George Muller became a new creature, a man filled with the Holy Spirit and a love of God. Armed with his new faith, he set out to become a missionary, but there were several hindrances to that goal.


He fell in love, and “I had given up the work of the Lord, and, I may say, the Lord himself for the sake of a girl.” He dropped the girl, but still faced opposition from his father who did not think too highly of his son’s plan to minister to the Jews in Poland, preferring that he become a clergyman to the Establishment. When his father refused to help finance his journey, George tried his luck with the lottery and won a small sum, but quickly came to think it “altogether wrong that he, a child of God, should have anything to do with so worldly and ungodly a system.” He turned to prayer instead, and before long was hired to teach German to visiting American professors, an opportunity that paid him much more than he needed. He still had a national service requirement standing in his way, but was freed from that after a medical exam determined he was physically unfit for the military.


In 1829, he traveled to London where he began his training as a missionary, but shortly after beginning his studies, he fell seriously ill and came close to death. His life was going to change once again, this time through Henry Craik, a Scotsman. Through Craik, Muller would see that he was not as fully committed to God as he needed or wanted to be.  Shortly after his ninetieth birthday, in an address to ministers, he related that “I had been converted in November 1825, but I only came into the full surrender of the heart four years later, in July 1829. The love of money was gone, the love of place was gone, the love of position was gone, the love of worldly pleasures and engagements was gone. God, God, God alone became my portion. I found my all in Him. I wanted nothing else.”


It was with Craik’s help that Muller began to understand Scripture more clearly and to realize that most preachers were ineffective at communicating the Gospel to their flock. They relied too much on reading printed sermons that lacked conviction and were often uninspiring. Muller decided to become a preacher himself, and approached the Gospel with a passion and clarity that was missing from most sermons. Soon, he chose to abandon missionary work to accept an offer to become pastor of a church in Teignmouth.


In 1830, his life changed again when he took the hand of Mary Groves in matrimony. “In giving her to me, I own the hand of God,” he wrote. “His hand was most marked, and my soul says, ‘Thou art good, and thou doest good.” Of marriage, he said, “To enter upon the marriage union is one of the most deeply important events of life. It cannot be too prayerfully treated.” Their marriage would last until her death forty years later.


Together, they moved to Bristol at the invitation of his good friend Craik. It was there, with Craik, that he founded the Scriptural Knowledge Institution on March 5, 1834. The institute had four main objectives: (1) assisting day-schools, Sunday schools and adult schools in which all instruction was based on Biblical principles; (2) provide such schooling for poor children to instruct them in the ways of the Lord; (3) to promote and distribute the Holy Scriptures; (4) to assist Missionaries and Missionary schools.


Next he set about restoring the Bethesda Chapel, a church that had lost most of its congregation and had fallen into disrepair. Under Muller’s leadership, the church grew and became financially and spiritually prosperous.


By then, Mary had given birth to a daughter, Lydia, and Muller reconciled with his father who, after visiting his son, said, “May God help me to follow your example, and to act according to what you have said to me.”


In epidemic of cholera hit Bristol, leaving many children homeless and orphaned. As always, Muller sought guidance from God, and called a public meeting to address the problem. Within months, five orphanages were operating, including Muller’s own home which accommodated thirty girls. The homeless problem only grew, however, and Muller realized a larger facility was required. Several more homes were opened, including one at a rural site in Ashley Down that housed 300 children. By 1875, more than 2000 children were being clothed, fed, educated, and sheltered though the Muller homes.


As he told The New York Times, “Without any one having been asked for anything by us, the sum of (so many thousand pounds) has been given to us the past year, entirely as a result of prayer to God.”


The homes required children to dress well, with strict guidelines provided, and all the children had duties to perform. Boys worked in the garden and did repairs around the house, while girls assisted in the kitchen.


No good deed goes unpunished, however, and Muller faced charges that he was educating many of the children “above their station.” Others accused him of robbing the factories and mills of needed labor because of the program’s length, which required boys to remain in the homes until they reached the age of 14. Girls stayed an additional three years. Once they did leave, they had all been trained for various occupations, including domestic service, nursing, and teaching.


“The greatest thing that has ever happened to me was at the Müller Homes,” recalled one orphan, “because there I learnt about the Lord Jesus. Through the teaching that had been put into my heart as a child, I gave that same heart to the Lord one day, and I have never regretted it.”


The homes would continue to operate long after Muller’s death, and did so without government support. Muller relied on prayer. As C.H. Spurgeon, the Baptist preacher remembered, “he frequently astonished me with the way in which he mentioned that he had for so many months and years asked for such and such a mercy, and praised the Lord for it, as though he actually obtained it…he knew the prayer would be answered.”


Muller was not one to rest on his laurels, and, at age 70 in 1875, he returned to missionary work, now accompanied by Susannah Grace Sanger whom he married following the death of his first wife, Mary. They traveled the world, covering more than 2000 miles, preaching the Gospel in many languages. When visiting the United States, they were invited to the White House by President Rutherford B. Hayes. Muller remained active well into old age, and at age 92, marveled that “I have been able every day, and all day, to work, and that with ease, as seventy years since.”


He died on March 9, 1898. The funeral was held in Bristol where tens of thousands of people stood along the route of the funeral procession to pay their respects.


Muller’s work continues to this day through the George Muller Charitable Trust which adheres to his principle by seeking funding through prayer and prayer alone. Working with local churches in the Bristol area, it continues to care for children and also the elderly.


“The joy which answers to prayer give cannot be described,” Muller wrote, “and the impetus which they afford to the spiritual life is exceedingly great. . . If you believe indeed in the Lord Jesus for the salvation of your soul, if you walk uprightly and do not regard iniquity in your heart, if you continue to wait patiently and believingly upon God, then answers will surely be given to your prayers.”


In Muller’s life, we see the power of prayer, as well as the truth of 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore if any man [be] in Christ, [he is] a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

by Brian W. Fairbanks

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