George Müller: The Guardian of Bristol’s Orphans

As George waited for a reply from London, he kept busy with his studies, which included English, Greek, German, French, Latin, and Italian. Along with studying these languages, George felt a need to study Hebrew. He couldn’t think of a good reason why he felt this way, since he did not know a single Jewish person. Yet, he bought a Hebrew textbook from which he taught himself the language as best he could.

About a month after sending the application papers off to London, George happened to be meeting with Dr. Tholuck. As they talked, the professor asked out of the blue, “Have you ever thought of being a missionary to the Jews? I’m an adviser to the London Society for Promoting Christianity Among the Jews. Did you know that?”

“No, sir, I did not,” replied George, thinking the question odd, since Dr. Tholuck already knew he intended to go to Bucharest. “But it is strange you should ask. I have had a peculiar desire to study Hebrew for the last while.”

“Well, perhaps you should consider it,” urged the professor. “I know you want to go to Bucharest, so I suggest you pray and wait. If things work out for you to go to Bucharest, you should take that as God’s will and go. But if not, perhaps His will is for you to work with the Jews.”

George nodded. He would keep learning Hebrew and wait. As it turned out, he didn’t have to wait long. Later that month he received a letter from the Continental Missionary Society thanking him for his interest in Bucharest. They were sorry to inform him, however, that they were no longer able to send a missionary there. A war between Russia and Turkey was going on in the area that made it unsafe for missionary work to proceed. They would, however, keep his application on file in case the situation changed, although they did not think that was likely in the next year or two.

As George read the letter, a sense of relief swept over him. God had made His will plain. George was not supposed to go to Bucharest as a missionary after all. George asked Dr. Tholuck if he would submit his name to the London Society for Promoting Christianity Among the Jews as a missionary candidate. Dr. Tholuck happily obliged, sending off a letter immediately. Then both men waited, and waited, and waited some more for a reply. In May 1828, while he was still waiting for a reply, George completed his degree and found a temporary job as a chaplain.

Finally in June, George Müller received his reply. The London Society for Promoting Christianity Among the Jews had reviewed Dr. Tholuck’s letter and was prepared to offer George a six-month probationary period in London, to start at his convenience. George would spend his time studying the Hebrew language and effective ways to communicate with Jews. At first George was upset. He had waited so long for a reply, and now he was being told he needed to travel all the way to London for six more months of study. He had been studying all his life, it seemed. In the end, he took up the offer. After all, it appeared it was God’s will for him to do so.

In his eagerness to get to London, however, George had overlooked one very important matter. Prussia had an army that was the envy of every other country in Europe. The army had become renowned through its practice of conscription. Prussia was the first nation in modern Europe to require all her able-bodied men to serve in the army. Conscripts served three years in the army, although men with a university degree were required to serve only one year. There was no way George would be allowed to leave Prussia until he had served his one year in the army. The trouble was, he didn’t have a year to spare. He wanted to get to London as soon as possible. So, he began to pray….

Chapter 5
A Free Man

George lay in bed, his head throbbing with pain and his eyes feeling like two burning cinders. He was vaguely aware of a doctor standing over him, pushing and prodding on his abdomen. He winced in pain with each touch. It felt as though the doctor was stabbing him with a knife. George heard the doctor talking to someone else in the room. Was it Beta? He tried to pull all his mental faculties together and concentrate, but he couldn’t. He sank back onto his pillow as the darkness of unconsciousness overcame him.

Several hours later he awoke. His sheets were drenched with perspiration, and his head still throbbed. He didn’t think anyone else was in the room, and he lay quietly wondering whether this was it.

“So this is how it’s going to end. It’s no wonder I didn’t get an exemption from the army so I could go to England. I wasn’t supposed to go anywhere. I’m going to die in Prussia.” George mumbled to himself, the words barely audible above his shallow breathing. The thought of dying did not scare George. In fact, George felt strangely peaceful and resigned to his fate. It was true he had done all he could to get out of his army obligations. He had written to explain that he wanted to be a missionary. That had not worked. He’d had important officials appeal directly to King Frederick William III on his behalf. The king had refused the appeals. In the end, there had been no alternative. George was to report for army duty in a month. But now he would be going nowhere.

George heard door hinges creak and looked over to see Beta silhouetted in the doorway. Beta tiptoed to the bedside. When he saw that George was awake, he smiled. “How are you feeling, my friend?” he asked quietly.

“I don’t know. Better, I think,” replied George, unsure of his condition. “Did the doctor come to see me before?”

“Yes,” replied Beta, surprised. “You remember?”

George tried to nod his head, but it hurt too much. “What did he say?” he asked.

“It’s not good news, I’m afraid. It seems the illness you have had for the past month made you cough and overexercise your stomach muscles. The coughing fit caused a blood vessel in your stomach to break. You had been bleeding there for quite some time, the doctor thought.”

“What happens now?” asked George through cracked lips.

“I have some medicine here the doctor mixed for you. He said you should take it and rest and pray.”

Beta lifted an amber-colored bottle from the sidetable and pulled the cork from its neck. George swallowed a spoonful of the thick, black liquid from the bottle before falling back onto his pillow. He was exhausted from the effort of leaning forward.

Rest and pray. George knew how to do both, but would they be enough? For five days George lay somewhere between life and death. Then, much to the amazement of the doctor, he began to make a slow recovery.

A month later, George was well enough to report to the army to begin active duty, or so he thought. As the army doctor examined him—not once but twice—he frowned and asked George a lot of questions about his health. In the end, he shook his head.

“It’s a sorry thing to have to say to a young lad like you, but it’s my opinion you’re not well enough to serve in the army. If you waited ten years, I doubt you’d ever be well enough for the Prussian army. You’ll have to be excused.”

The doctor looked apologetically at George, who was trying his best to hold back a smile. An army general no less signed the papers, and within the space of an hour, George Müller’s sickness had made him a free man, able to travel wherever he wanted!

On March 19, 1829, George stood on the deck of the boat he had boarded in Rotterdam, Holland, for the trip to England. Now as the boat sailed up the River Thames towards London, George took a deep breath of English air. He had made it!

George was eager for the boat to tie up so that he could get on with his training. The sooner he started, the sooner he would be on his way back to mainland Europe as a missionary to the Jews. By the end of his first day in London, George had found himself a room in a cheap boarding house in Hackney, definitely not the fashionable end of London, but it suited his purposes.

The next morning George took a coach to the London Society for Promoting Christianity Among the Jews. There he met the director, who explained to him that every detail of his life for the next six months had been mapped out for him. For twelve hours a day George was to study Hebrew, Chaldee, and the Rabbinic alphabet. At the end of six months, he would be expected to be able to read, write, and speak Hebrew fluently and to recite from memory many chapters from the Old Testament in their original language. When he had proved himself capable of doing this, the society would give him his first missionary assignment, most likely to somewhere in Austria or Russia.

George set to work that evening. Even though he had the advantage of already knowing a little Hebrew, he was aware that he would have to work hard if he was going to be a missionary at the end of six months.

George encountered small encouragements along the way. He heard, for instance, of a rich dentist from Exeter in southwest England who had given up his very profitable practice to go to Persia as a missionary. The dentist, whose name was Anthony Groves, apparently wasn’t asking anyone for financial support. He was going to go out as a missionary, trusting God to meet all of his financial needs. He sounded like a man after George’s own heart, and George wished he could have met him. But Dr. Groves had already left England, and all George could do was hope that it wouldn’t be too long before he followed Groves’s example.

George was in London for only two months before he suffered a setback. The illness that had kept him out of the Prussian army flared up again. The English doctor who visited him was very alarmed. He felt sure that George was about to die, and he urged him to get out of the damp, smoky air of London as soon as possible. He told him that his only hope for recovery was to stay at the seaside.

George took the doctor’s advice, and as soon as he had the strength, he made the coach trip to Teignmouth in Devon in southern England. George had no particular reason for choosing Teignmouth other than that it had a mild climate and bracing sea air. But while he was there, he encountered circumstances that would change the course of his life.

While in Teignmouth, George Müller met a Scotsman named Henry Craik. Henry was the same age as George and, like George, was a university graduate who had become a Christian during his college years. Also like George, Henry Craik had worked as a tutor, only not for adults but for children. George was astonished to learn that the children whom Henry had tutored were the children of Anthony Groves, the dentist and now missionary George had heard about in London.

Of course, George wanted to know all about Anthony Groves, and Henry Craik, who was very impressed with his old employer, was glad to share what he knew. He told George that Anthony Groves had become involved with a group of influential Christian men whom he’d encountered while studying in Dublin, Ireland. The men, who were all graduates of top colleges, included in their ranks the sons of an Irish member of Parliament, a baron, a lord, and the godson of Admiral Nelson.

The men had begun meeting together to discuss their Christian beliefs. After studying the Bible, they came to the conclusion that it was indeed true and that they should follow it exactly. This led Anthony Groves to give ten percent of his income to the poor. He then upped it to a quarter. Finally, he began to give away all his income, except for a small amount to cover the day-to-day needs of his family. Ultimately, Groves decided to sell all he had and become a missionary.

Other members of the group made similar decisions. One of them, Benjamin Newton, had begun to hold Christian meetings at Plymouth near the southwestern tip of England, where he was enjoying great success. The meetings were open to believers of all denominations and were now being called the Plymouth Brethren meetings.

George was fascinated by all he heard. He wished he could meet some of these men. If they’d had the kind of impact on Anthony Groves’s life as Henry Craik seemed to indicate, they were people George wanted to know.

For ten days George stayed in Teignmouth. He would not allow himself to stay longer, because he had to make up for lost time in his Hebrew lessons. As his health improved and his strength returned, he was more anxious than ever to get on with the task of becoming a missionary.