George Müller: The Guardian of Bristol’s Orphans

The Müllers went on two more speaking tours after that, but by 1892, when George was eighty-eight years old, even he could see that he needed to slow down a little! Although Susannah had taken great care to make the best arrangements she could for them, there were still times when they’d had to travel for six or seven days at a time on a train or spend nights aboard steamships, where they would awake to find rats climbing over them. Despite the hardships, it had been a wonderful seventeen years of traveling. The Müllers had traveled over two hundred thousand miles, visited forty-two countries, and shared the gospel message with people from all manner of background and religious persuasion.

Although George Müller’s days of traveling might have been over, his days of useful work were not. With his customary energy, he once again threw himself into the work of the orphanage and the Scriptural Knowledge Institution.

Chapter 16
After Tomorrow…

George, you must slow down. You aren’t as young as you once were!” Susannah Müller looked exasperated.

“None of us are,” George replied with a twinkle in his eye. “I’ll keep working as long as God gives me the strength to go on.”

“I know, but do think about having an afternoon nap. How many other eighty-nine-year-old men do you know who are preaching every Sunday, receiving hundreds of visitors a year, and writing annual reports?”

“Not many,” George admitted. “God has blessed me!”

And He had. George Müller considered himself fitter and healthier at eighty-nine than he had been at twenty-nine. He still rose early each morning, dipped his head in icy cold water, and ate a sparse breakfast. And each day he climbed Ashley Down hill to spend the day at his beloved orphanage.

Ironically, it was Susannah Müller, twenty-one years younger than her husband, who died first. Her death was sudden, and so in 1894, George found himself a widower for the second time. George and Susannah had been happily married for twenty-three years, and George missed Susannah greatly.

Since he was alone, George decided it was an unnecessary expense for him to stay in his Paul Street home, where he had lived for over sixty years. It made much more sense for him to move into a room in the Number Three Orphan House, where he could be with the staff and children twenty-four hours a day.

The children loved having George around. They enjoyed it when he wandered into the gardens and asked them questions about their schoolwork or when he told and retold them Bible stories. They also loved the stories he told about the day Queen Victoria was crowned and about the orphanage and the day the orphans moved to Ashley Down from Wilson Street. Many orphans who had grown up in the orphanage were delighted to find George living there when they came to visit. Some of them even brought their grandchildren back to introduce to George. Of course, this really made him feel old!

In the summer of 1897, Queen Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee, making her the longest reigning monarch England had ever had. Yet she was not even queen when George opened the first orphan house on Wilson Street. It was hard for him to believe it had been over sixty years ago. He remembered the opening day as if it were yesterday. He also remembered taking Mary and Lydia and some of the older orphans to the parade in honor of Queen Victoria’s coronation. In his mind’s eye he could still see the cheering crowds and the delighted looks on the faces of the children. In honor of Queen Victoria’s sixty years on the throne, the mayor of Bristol sent fifty pounds from the city’s Jubilee Fund to the orphanage for George to use in helping the children celebrate the jubilee. As a result, the older children spent a wonderful day at Clifton Zoo, complete with tea cakes and cold lemonade. And while the older children were gone, the toddlers enjoyed their own nursery party in honor of Queen Victoria.

One Sunday morning, about six months after Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, as George preached his usual sermon at Bethesda Chapel, he spoke of how Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. As he spoke, his face shone. He told the congregation, “I am a happy old man! I walk about my room and say, ‘Lord, I am not alone, for You are with me. I have buried my wives and my children, but You are left. I am never lonely or desolate with You and with Your smile, which is better than life!’”

About a month later, on Wednesday, March 9, 1898, George Müller, now ninety-two years old, completed his usual duties at the orphanage. In the afternoon he confessed to Jim Wright that he’d had a little difficulty getting himself dressed that morning. He had become so tired he’d needed to rest three times but, George added, “God is good, and I feel perfectly fine now.”

“Perhaps you ought to allow someone to help you dress in the mornings,” Jim Wright suggested tactfully. “I’m sure I could arrange it right away.”

George thought for a moment. There had been many other times when people suggested he should have a personal assistant. Now, for the first time, he agreed it would soon be necessary. He patted his son-in-law’s arm. “After tomorrow, Jim. Send me a helper after tomorrow….”

But tomorrow never came for George Müller. That night George led the prayer meeting at Number Three Orphan House and then went up to his room. He read his Bible for a few minutes. (He had read it through completely over three hundred times since becoming a Christian.) Then he retired to bed. Around five o’clock the next morning, George Müller died peacefully.

By nine o’clock, the whole of Bristol was in an uproar. George Müller, the beloved father to ten thousand orphans, was dead. Bells all over the city tolled, and hundreds of people flocked to the orphanage to pay their respects.

The following Monday, the biggest funeral service in the history of Bristol took place. All of the shops and businesses in the city were closed, and thousands of people lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the funeral procession as it wound its way from Number Three Orphan House to Bethesda Chapel, where the funeral service would be held. As the procession passed Bristol Cathedral, the bells tolled, flags were flown at half-mast, and, as was the custom in Victorian times, the windows in the city were draped with black curtains or were covered with black shutters.

About fifteen hundred orphans, all those who were old enough to walk the distance, marched in rank behind the coach carrying George Müller’s coffin. The children were joined by hundreds of men and women who had grown up in the orphanage, including some who had been in the original orphanage on Wilson Street when it opened in 1836.

Thousands of mourners stood quietly outside the church as the funeral service took place. There was no way for them all to fit inside. After a final hymn was sung, the procession made its way from Bethesda Chapel to the cemetery. Over one hundred carriages joined in the procession, including one carrying the mayor of Bristol and his family. Seven thousand people stood respectfully at the cemetery as George Müller was buried under a yew tree between his two wives, Mary and Susannah.

The funeral service was reported all over England, and news of it went out on the telegraph wires around the world. The Daily Telegraph wrote that George Müller had “robbed the cruel streets of thousands of victims, the jails of thousands of felons, and the poorhouses of thousands of helpless waifs.” And how had he done this? The Liverpool Mercury wrote, “How was this wonder accomplished? Mr. Müller has told the world that it was the result of ‘Prayer.’ The rationalism of the day will sneer at this declaration; but the facts remain.”

The Liverpool Mercury was right. No matter what anyone thought of George Müller’s religious ideas, the facts were amazing. In the sixty-three years he had run the orphanage, he had taken full responsibility for the care of over ten thousand orphaned children.

George Müller had truly learned the lesson of being a good steward of God’s money. He went from being a boy who stole from his father and a young man who used whatever means he could to swindle money from his friends to a man God trusted with a fortune, a man who kept so little for himself that when he died, he had only one hundred sixty pounds in his estate, and most of that was the value of a few pieces of furniture.

In his lifetime, nearly one and one-half million pounds passed through George Müller’s hands. As well as supporting the orphanage, one hundred fifteen thousand pounds of this money was spent on running Sunday schools and regular schools around the world. Ninety thousand pounds was used for printing and distributing Bibles, and over two hundred sixty thousand pounds went to supporting missionaries. One of the many missionary organizations George gave to was the China Inland Mission, founded by Hudson Taylor, who had become a good friend. During a particularly difficult period in China, George sent enough money to Hudson Taylor to support all the missionaries of the China Inland Mission!

George Müller was not a man driven by pride or greed. He was a humble man who allowed huge sums of money to pass through his hands. He recognized that it was God’s money, not his, and it was to be used in ways that would demonstrate God’s love for people. Everything George did was toward furthering that end. As a result, thousands of people’s lives were touched and changed. Today the lives of those George touched, as well as the manner in which he lived his own life, are a demonstration to every Christian of the impact a life of simple faith can have.

Chapter 17
The Work Goes On

As George Müller grew older, many people became concerned about what would happen to the orphanage when he died. Some people got up the courage and asked him outright. George always gave the same answer. “When it is the Lord’s pleasure to remove this servant from my post, people will see that it is I who was dependent on Him and not He who was dependent on me. He can and will easily raise up another servant, and if he acts in accordance with the principles I have learned and lived, the orphan houses will continue to flourish.”

When George Müller died in 1898, many people predicted that the orphanage would die with him. But George’s faith proved them wrong. George’s son-in-law Jim Wright took over full responsibility for the orphanage. He had in fact been managing its day-to-day operation for quite some time. Under his guidance, the orphanage continued to run as it always had. George Müller’s pattern was followed exactly: No one but God was ever asked to supply money to keep it running, and the orphans were always well cared for and well loved.

Over time, however, social conditions began to change. Public health conditions improved so much from the time George Müller first arrived in Bristol that many of the diseases that had routinely claimed the lives of adults became easily treatable. This meant that there were fewer orphans in Great Britain. By the end of World War Two in 1945, only one hundred eighty orphans were living in the huge buildings on Ashley Down. It was decided that these orphans would be better served living in smaller group homes, where they could enjoy more of a family atmosphere. In 1948, the process of selling off the five orphan houses began. The houses were all eventually sold to the Bristol Education Authority to be converted into a Technical Institute. The last orphan left the orphanage on Ashley Down for good in 1958.

The money from the sale of the orphan houses was used to buy many smaller homes throughout Bristol and the surrounding countryside. These homes were known as the Müller Family Homes, in which the orphans lived in more intimate family settings. Some of the money was also used to buy a large home with a beautiful garden. The home was named Müller House and is still used today as the headquarters of the Müller Foundation. Müller House also contains a small museum, along with all the records of the children who were raised in the orphanage.

In the late 1970s, yet another change was made in the way the orphans were cared for. The number of children needing to live in orphanages, even small family-style orphanages, decreased. Since foster homes were seen as a better living situation for these children, the Müller Family Homes were closed down. But this was not the end of the Müller Foundation. The director and staff searched for ways they could still be useful to children in need. Their solution was to open daycare centers and family support centers where parents and children in need could find help.