Strengthening Faith: George Müller of Bristol (1805-1898)

Strengthening Faith: George Müller of Bristol (1805-1898)

Darin D. Lenz

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”

Colossians 2:6-7

On this day, March 10, in 1898, George Müller, the celebrated founder of the massive orphan houses in Bristol, England, died. In his autobiographical account, A Narrative of Some of the Lord’s Dealings with George Müller, he wrote, “Now, if I, a poor man, simply by prayer and faith, obtained, without asking any individual, the means for establishing and carrying on an Orphan-House: there would be something which, with the Lord’s blessing, might be instrumental in strengthening the faith of the children of God. This, then, was the primary reason, for establishing the Orphan-House.”[1] In this simple statement Müller explained his motive for caring for thousands of orphaned girls and boys in his adopted country from the mid-1830s until his death.

Müller’s desire to be used by God is noteworthy because he embraced living by faith to distinguish himself from those who solicited funds from donors or used their personal wealth for philanthropic purposes. Instead, Müller would pray for God’s help and Christians could give as the Holy Spirit directed them. Müller, of course, did not keep this all a secret. He did let people know what he was doing by publishing annual reports that eventually became the foundation for his multi-volume, multi-edition autobiography that garnered him global renown and enabled him to become one of the most celebrated philanthropists in the nineteenth century.

Müller’s name still has currency today among Christians around the world who are drawn to his example of trusting God to meet their everyday needs. Since the mid-nineteenth century, untold thousands of Christians have looked to Muller’s story as a model as they established orphanages, hospitals, or simply tried to live out their faith. However, what many of them often do not know is that Müller, too, was drawing on those who taught him by their example.

Müller was born and raised in Prussia and attended the University of Halle where he was introduced to the life and legacy of the great German Pietist, August Hermann Francke (1663-1727). Francke, as a pastor and university professor in Halle, provided the first example of living by faith that Müller encountered. Francke wrote about relying on God to support his philanthropic labors that included among other things a large orphanage. Müller also had a close personal example for living by faith in Anthony Norris Groves (1795-1853), a dentist who became a missionary and eventually Müller’s brother-in-law. Groves first impressed and shaped the beliefs of Henry Craik (1805-1866), Müller’s long-time partner in ministry in Bristol, who also embraced living by faith. Out of this vibrant context Müller’s name remains the most well-known, but he was far from alone in venturing down this unique path of daily reliance on God.

Christians have always been taught by the lives of other Christians. From the first century onward, the history of Christianity has been filled with people who put their hope in God and became an inspiration to other Christians. Müller became famous for his prayer life and for his orphanage. Fame, however, was not his goal. Rather, Müller wanted the orphanage to be a testimony of God’s work in the world. He hoped to be a living reminder to others that God answers prayer, cares about our everyday needs, and can be relied upon even when things seem overwhelming. More importantly, Müller’s story reminds us we all have a story to tell about God’s trustworthiness—stories that encourage fellow believers and strengthen them in their faith.

Dear Lord, we thank you for how you have worked in the lives of Christians who came before us and who serve as a testimony of your love, grace, and mercy. Empower us through your Holy Spirit to put our faith and trust in you so that we too can help strengthen your Church through whatever gifts or abilities you have given to us to do your work on earth. Let our lives be a testimony to your joy, your peace, and your faithfulness as we face the challenges and opportunities of everyday life. Amen.

Darin D. Lenz is Professor of History at Fresno Pacific University in Fresno, California.

[1] George Müller, A Narrative of Some of the Lord’s Dealings with George Muller: First Part. 9th ed. (London: J. Nisbet & Co., 1895), 146.