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ARTICLE VIII.—GEORGE MÜLLER AND THE LIFE OF
The Life of Trust: being a narrative of the Lord's dealings with George Müller, written by himself. Edited and condensed by Rev. H. LINCOLN WAYLAND, with an introduction by Francis WAYLAND, D. D. Boston: Gould & Lincoln. 8vo. pp. 476.
The characteristic of our age is action; its corresponding need is therefore unction. One idea tends to engross us. In the bustle of doing good we are apt to overlook the need of being good, for an active age is not likely to be a devotional one. A book, therefore, which should counteract the danger of the day, would be a good gift for which we could not be too thankful. But in proportion to our joy for such a benefaction is our sorrow when we see what purports to be a corrective so mixed with error that we are sure it must fail of its end. The good intention of such an endeavor does not lessen the evil; it rather confirms it. A weak argument injures a cause, for we incline to think that the cause is unsound if the argument be intrue.
It is with mingled feelings, therefore, that we greet the appearance of Müller's Life of Trust. The aim of the book is excellent. It is designed to encourage prayer, and that in a time when men are apt to forget God, because they have so much to do for Him. For the religious activity of our day is so largely by a delegated activity, that the mass are in danger of losing the spiritual benefit of doing, they are so far removed from the immediate work. The vast machinery of our philanthropic movements is so highly organized that the individual is lost sight of, and his sympathies are chilled. That many need the stimulus this book was meant to impart is undeniable. But we fear that the impulse it was designed to give will
be more than counteracted by the errors it upholds. Our limited space compels us to be brief, but we will glance at the narrative before us and try to point out the defects of its lessons.
Müller was born at Kroppenstaedt, Prussia, September 27th, 1805. His father was not a religious man, though he was correct in his conduct. George, however, was a singularly vicious boy. He got into all sorts of scrapes at school, which indicated more than common perversity of heart and intensity of temperament. Yet, according to the Lutheran custom, , he was confirmed in the church, no change of character being required. His dissipated habits made him dishonest and got him sent to jail, and enabled him to cause his father a great deal of trouble, who, however, never relinquished, through it all, the determination that his son should become a clergyman. He entered the University at Halle, in 1825, having several times previously resolved to reform, but never keeping his resolutions for any considerable time. Here he renewed his profligate life afresh, though now a student of divinity, and a partaker of the Lord's supper twice a year. But after he had been about six months at the University, he chanced to go with a young friend to a social religious meeting at the house of a devout man, and was deeply impressed by the earnestness of the service. To this event he traces the turning point in his character. He continued to frequent the meeting, and his course of life was entirely changed. He became interested in missionary affairs, and Dr. Tholuck, coming to the University about that time, encouraged him to think seriously about becoming a missionary if he could obtain his father's consent. This, however, he could not get. He therefore declined to be supported by him, and gained his livelihood by teaching some American students at the University the German language. He was active in visiting the poor and sick from this time. In 1827, hearing that the Continental Society in England intended to send a minister to Bucharest, he obtained through Dr. Tholuck the appointment, his father unexpectedly giving his consent. The Bucharest project having been given up by the Society, Müller wished to become a missionary to the
Jews, having previously been much interested in them, and being quite a proficient Hebrew scholar. Having obtained an appointment from the London Society as missionary student for six months, he proceeded to London as soon as he got discharged from the duty of rendering military service, which is incumbent upon every Prussian subject. His course in England it will be impossible for us to trace step by step; suffice it to say, that after preaching in London for a while to the Jews, he determined to separate himself from the London Society, as “it seemed to him unscriptural for a servant of Christ to put himself under the control and direction of any one but the Lord.” He then preached in Teignmouth about a year, during which time he came to the extraordinary resolution to receive no salary, but to depend upon unsolicited contributions for his support; a course of conduct to which he ever after strictly adhered. He left Teignmouth for Bristol in 1830, and here the great work of his life was begun. He wished very earnestly to teach his people to live entirely by faith, and found that the impression of his own mode of living, by looking only to God in prayer for the supply of his temporal wants, had tended greatly to that end. But he had been familiar with the great work of Franke in Halle, in founding the Orphan House, and thought that if he could thus build up an institution by gaining the means necessary by prayer alone, he should much more efficiently confirm his people in that grace in which he felt they were lacking. This was the origin of the Ashley Down Orphan houses in Bristol, England. He had been much interested during his labors among the poor in the desolate condition of orphans, but he assures us it was the moral purpose of strengthening men's faith in prayer that moved him to begin the work in their behalf. In December, 1835, after much prayer concerning the object, he mentioned his plan to his brethren, but solicited no subscription. Soon after he received the first shilling toward the enterprise.
The mode of beginning the institution has been, we are again and again informed, strictly followed in conducting it. No one has ever been asked for money. The wants of the establishment have never been made known to any one.
Prayer is the sole means which has been used to start and continue a great institution which, up to this time, has accomplished a vast amount of charitable work. According to the statistics given, the number of pupils hitherto instructed in all the day, evening, and Sunday schools, is 13,124. The whole number of orphans educated within the establishment, is 1,153. Of the 700 now in the institution, 260 are hopefully pious. Missionaries aided at the present time, 100. Since 1834, there have been circulated Bibles, 24,768; Testaments, 15,100; Psalms, 719; other portions of Scripture, 1,876; or, total, 42,463 Bibles or portions of Scripture. Tracts and books, 11,493,174. Two large buildings have been erected, a third is in the process of erection; the land on which they stand, has been purchased. The expense of the orphan work alone has been £133,528 sterling, and the expenses are daily increasing. Contributions have been sent from every quarter of the globe.
The book, in which this course of events is narrated, is put forward as a plea for us to look to prayer alone, to supply the means of charitable working. The remark is repeated on almost every page, “all this by prayer alone.” And the honored author of the Introduction gives his support to the view here advanced. He would seem to apply it to" “our missionary and other benevolent operations." He says, “If Mr. Müller is right, I think it is evident that we are all wrong. We commend this most unpretending of narratives to the thoughtful consideration of Christians of all denominations. We have greatly overrated the teachings of these facts, if they do not furnish strong incentives to a life of holy exertion, and impart an unwonted and powerful motive to earnest and believing prayer.”
While there is much in the book to commend, there is also much taught by it to be condemned. Mr. Müller is doubtless a good man; we cannot consider him, in many particulars, a wise one.
He has a zeal, but not according to knowledge. There is a vein of fanaticism in his character, which must impair his usefulness as an example. For instance, in regard to preaching, we find him looking for a direct communication from God, in regard to the selection of a text. He will not
preach until he feels within a conviction that, in answer to special prayer, God has impressed a text upon his mind. The reason he does not seem at all to honor as God's instrument. Inward impression takes its place. He does not appear to regard his mind as given for investigation, but only to execute what is supernaturally impressed upon it. Again, in regard to reading the Scriptures, he seems to dissuade from their critical study, and to incite to simple meditation on the text itself. (See p. 54, &c).
Now none will deny the necessity of devout meditation on the word of God, if we are to receive the truth as a practical, living influence. But how are we to get at the truth on which we must meditate, but by critical examination of the text which contains it? Is not intelligent study an essential propædeutic to profitable meditation? We have selected these two illustrations, not because they are especially marked, but because they are a fair sample of the one-sidedness of Müller's religious character. His one side is a good side, but it is not the only one. A sermon conceived, and a text selected with a prayerful spirit, is indeed a great help towards the end for which it is designed, but it is not the sole help. God gave us minds to cultivate and use. He gave us judgment, that we might exercise it, and we have no right to require the help directly from His interposition, which He has appointed other channels to convey. Again, the intense individualism of his character is certainly extreme. He could not labor under the direction of an excellent society, because he must be under the immediate and entire direction of God. But how would his own work have succeeded, had his co-laborers been of like mind! They must work under his direction. Is not this, also, incompatible with the sole direction of God? We cite these instances, because they manifest the same character as that peculiarity upon which the book so especially insists. That peculiarity we cannot urge upon others. We do not pretend to deny the truth of the statements made by Mr. Müller; we have no means to test them, and they come strongly attested. But we think that the depending upon prayer alone for supplies, whatever the effects may have been in his case, is a prin