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GEORGE MUELLER OF BRISTOL

CHAPTER 16
The Shadow Of A Great Sorrow

"WITH clouds He covereth the light." No human life is without some experience of clouded skies and stormy days, and sometimes "the clouds return after the rain." It is a blessed experience to recognize the silver lining on the darkest storm-cloud, and, better still, to be sure of the shining of God's light behind a sky that seems wholly and hopelessly overcast.

The year 1870 was made forever pathetically memorable by the decease of Mrs. Mueller, who lived just long enough to see the last of the New Orphan Houses opened. From the outset of the work in November, 1835, for more than thirty-four years, this beloved, devoted wife had been also a sympathetic helper.

This wedded life had approached very near to the ideal of connubial bliss, by reason of mutual fitness, common faith in God and love for His work, and long association in prayer and service. In their case, the days of courtship were never passed; indeed the tender and delicate mutual attentions of those early days rather increased than decreased as the years went on; and the great maxim was both proven and illustrated, that the secret of willing love is the secret of keeping it. More than that, such affection grows and becomes more and more a fountain of mutual delight. Never had his beloved "Mary" been so precious to her husband as during the very year of her departure.

This marriage union was so happy that Mr. Mueller could not withhold his loving witness that he never saw her at any time after she became his wife, without a new feeling of delight. And day by day they were wont to find at least a few moments of rest together, sitting after dinner, hand in hand, in loving intercourse of mind and heart, made the more complete by this touch of physical contact, and, whether in speech or silence, communing in the Lord. Their happiness in God and in each other was perennial, perpetual, growing as the years fled by.

Mr. Mueller's solemn conviction was that all this wedded bliss was due to the fact that she was not only a devoted Christian, but that their one united object was to live only and wholly for God; that they had always abundance of work for God, in which they were heartily united; that this work was never allowed to interfere with the care of their own souls, or their seasons of private prayer and study of the Scriptures; and that they were wont daily, and often thrice a day, to secure a time of united prayer and praise when they brought before the Lord the matters which at the time called for thanksgiving and supplication.

Mrs. Mueller had never been a very vigorous woman, and more than once had been brought nigh unto death. In October, 1859, after twenty-nine years of wedded life and love, she had been laid aside by rheumatism and had continued in great suffering for about nine months, quite helpless and unable to work; but it was felt to be a special mark of God's love and faithfulness that this very affliction was used by Him to reestablish her in health and strength, the compulsory rest made necessary for the greater part of a year being in Mr. Mueller's judgment a means of prolonging her life and period of service for the ten years following. Thus a severe trial met by them both in faith had issued in much blessing both to soul and body.

The closing scenes of this beautiful life are almost too sacred to be unveiled to common eyes. For some few years before her departure, it was plain that her health and vitality were declining. With difficulty could she be prevailed on, however, to abate her activity, or, even when a distressing cough attacked her, to allow a physician to be called. Her husband carefully guarded and nursed her, and by careful attention to diet and rest, by avoidance of needless exposure, and by constant resort to prayer, She was kept alive through much weakness and sometimes much pain. But, on Saturday night, February 5th, she found that she had not the use of one of her limbs, and it was obvious that the end was nigh. Her own mind was clear and her own heart at peace. She herself remarked, "He will soon come." And a few minutes after four in the afternoon of the Lord's day, February 6, 1870, she sweetly passed from human toils and trials, to be forever with the Lord.

Under the weight of such a sorrow, most men would have sunk into depths of almost hopeless despair. But this man of God, sustained by a divine love, at once sought for occasions of thanksgiving; and, instead of repining over his loss, gratefully remembered and recorded the goodness of God in taking such a wife, releasing her saintly spirit from the bondage of weakness, sickness, and pain, rather than leaving her to a protracted suffering and the mute agony of helplessness; and, above all, introducing her to her heart's desire, the immediate presence of the Lord Jesus, and the higher service of a celestial sphere. Is not that grief akin to selfishness which dwells so much on our own deprivations as to be oblivious of the ecstatic gain of the departed saints who, withdrawn from us and absent from the body, are at home with the Lord?

It is only in those circumstances of extreme trial which prove to ordinary men a crushing weight, that implicit faith in the Father's unfailing wisdom and love proves its full power to sustain. Where self-will is truly lost in the will of God, the life that is hidden in Him is most radiantly exhibited in the darkest hour.

The death of this beloved wife afforded an illustration of this. Within a few hours after this withdrawal of her who had shared with him the planning and working of these long years of service, Mr. Mueller went to the Monday-evening prayer meeting, then held in Salem Chapel, to mingle his prayers and praises as usual with those of his brethren. With a literally shining countenance, he rose and said:

"Beloved brethren and sisters in Christ, I ask you to join with me in hearty praise and thanksgiving to my precious Lord for His loving kindness in having taken my darling, beloved wife out of the pain and suffering which she has endured, into His own presence; and as I rejoice in everything that is for her happiness, so I now rejoice as I realize how far happier she is, in beholding her Lord whom she loved so well, than in any joy she has known or could know here. I ask you also to pray that the Lord will so enable me to have fellowship in her joy that my bereaved heart may be occupied with her blessedness instead of my unspeakable loss."

These remarkable words are supplied by one who was himself present and on whose memory they made an indelible impression.

This occurrence had a marked effect upon all who were at that meeting. Mrs. Mueller was known by all as a most valuable, lovely, and holy woman and wife. After nearly forty years of wedded life and love, she had left the earthly home for the heavenly. To her husband she had been a blessing beyond description, and to her daughter Lydia, at once a wise and tender mother and a sympathetic companion. The loss to them both could never be made up on earth. Yet in these circumstances this man of God had grace given to forget his own and his daughter's irreparable loss, and to praise God for the unspeakable gain to the departed wife and mother.

The body was laid to rest on February 11th, many thousands of sorrowing friends evincing the deepest sympathy. Twelve hundred orphans mingled in the funeral procession, and the whole staff of helpers so far as they could be spared from the houses. The bereaved husband strangely upheld by the arm of the Almighty Friend in whom he trusted, took upon himself the funeral service both at chapel and cemetery. He was taken seriously ill afterward, but, as soon as his returning strength allowed, he preached his wife's funeral sermon―another memorable occasion. It was the supernatural serenity of his peace in the presence of such a bereavement that led his attending physician to say to a friend,

"I have never before seen so unhuman a man."

Yes, unhuman indeed, though far from inhuman, lifted above the weakness of mere humanity by a power not of man.

That funeral sermon was a noble tribute to the goodness of the Lord even in the great affliction of his life. The text was:

"Thou art good and doest good."
(Psalm cxix.68.)

Its three divisions were:

"The Lord was good and did good:

first, in giving her to me;

second in so long leaving her to me; and

third, in taking her from me."

It is happily presented in Mr. Mueller's journal, and must be read to be appreciated.*

*Narrative, III. 575-594.

This union, begun in prayer, was in prayer sanctified to the end. Mrs. Mueller's chief excellence lay in her devoted piety. She wore that one ornament which is in the sight of God of great price―the meek and quiet spirit; the beauty of the Lord her God was upon her. She had sympathetically shared her husband's prayers and tears during all the long trial-time of faith and patience, and partaken of all the joys and rewards of the triumph hours. Mr. Mueller's own witness to her leaves nothing more to be added, for it is the tribute of him who knew her longest and best. He writes:

"She was God's own gift, exquisitely suited to me even in natural temperament. Thousands of times I said to her, 'My darling, God Himself singled you out for me, as the most suitable wife I could possibly wish to have had.'"

As to culture, she had a basis of sensible practical education, surmounted and adorned by ladylike accomplishments which she had neither time nor inclination to indulge in her married life. Not only was she skilled in the languages and in such higher studies as astronomy, but in mathematics also; and this last qualification made her for thirty-four years an invaluable help to her husband, as month by month she examined all the account-books, and the hundreds of bills of the matrons of the orphan houses, and with the eye of an expert detected the least mistake.

All her training and natural fitness indicated a providential adaptation to her work, like "the round peg in the round hole." Her practical education in needlework, and her knowledge of the material most serviceable for various household uses, made her competent to direct both in the purchase and manufacture of cloths and other fabrics for garments, bed-linen, etc. She moved about those orphan houses like an angel of Love, taking unselfish delight in such humble ministries as preparing neat, clean, beds to rest the little ones, and covering them with warm blankets in cold weather. For the sake of Him who took little children in His arms, she became to these thousands of destitute orphans a nursing mother.

Shortly after her death, a letter was received from a believing orphan some seventeen years before sent out to service, asking, in behalf also of others formerly in the houses, permission to erect a stone over Mrs. Mueller's grave as an expression of love and grateful remembrance. Consent being given, hundreds of little offerings came in from orphans who during the twenty-five years previous had been under her motherly oversight―a beautiful tribute to her worth and a touching offering from those who had been to her as her larger family.

The dear daughter Lydia had, two years before Mrs. Mueller's departure, found in one of her mother's pocketbooks a sacred memorandum in her own writing, which she brought to her bereaved father's notice two days after his wife had departed. It belongs among the precious relics of her history. It reads as follows:

"Should it please the Lord to remove Mrs. Mary Mueller by a sudden dismissal, let none of the beloved survivors consider that it is in the way of judgment, either to her or to them. She has so often, when enjoying conscious nearness to the Lord, felt 'How sweet it would be now to depart and to be forever with Jesus,' that nothing but the shock it would be to her beloved husband and child, etc., has checked in her the longing desire that thus her happy spirit might take its flight. Precious Jesus! Thy will in this as in everything else, and not hers, be done!"

These words were to Mr. Mueller her last legacy; and with the comfort they gave him, the loving sympathy of his precious Lydia who did all that a daughter could do to fill a mother's place, and with the remembrance of Him who hath said,

"I will never leave thee nor forsake thee,"

he went on his lonely pilgrim way, rejoicing in the Lord, feeling nevertheless a wound in his heart, that seemed rather to deepen than to heal.

Sixteen months passed, when Mr. James Wright, who like Mr. Mueller had been bereft of his companion, asked of him the hand of the beloved Lydia in marriage. The request took Mr. Mueller wholly by surprise, but he felt that, to no man living, could he with more joyful confidence commit and intrust his choicest remaining earthly treasure; and, ever solicitous for others' happiness rather than his own, he encouraged his daughter to accept Mr. Wright's proffered love, when she naturally hesitated on her father's account. On November 16, 1871, they were married, and began a life of mutual prayer and sympathy which, like that of her father and mother, proved supremely and almost ideally happy, helpful, and useful.

While as yet this event was only in prospect, Mr. Mueller felt his own lonely condition keenly, and much more in view of his daughter's expected departure to her husband's home. He felt the need of some one to share intimately his toils and prayers, and help him in the Lord's work, and the persuasion grew upon him that it was God's will that he should marry again. After much prayer, he determined to ask Miss Susannah Grace Sangar to become his wife, having known her for more than twenty-five years as a consistent disciple, and believing her to be well fitted to be his helper in the Lord. Accordingly, fourteen days after his daughter's marriage to Mr. Wright, he entered into similar relations with Miss Sangar, who for years after joined him in prayer, unselfish giving, and labours for souls.

The second Mrs. Mueller was of one mind with her husband as to the stewardship of the Lord's property. He found her poor, for what she had once possessed she had lost; and had she been rich he would have regarded her wealth as an obstacle to marriage, unfitting her to be his companion in a self-denial based on scriptural principle. Riches or hoarded wealth would have been to both of them a snare, and so she also felt; so that, having still, before her marriage, a remnant of two hundred pounds, she at once put it at the Lord's disposal, thus joining her husband in a life of voluntary poverty; and although subsequent legacies were paid to her, she continued to the day of her death to be poor for the Lord's sake.

The question had often been asked Mr. Mueller what would become of the work when he, the master workman, should be removed. Men find it hard to get their eyes off the instrument, and remember that there is only, strictly speaking, one AGENT, for an agent is one who works, and an instrument is what the agent works with. Though provision might be made, in a board of trustees, for carrying on the orphan work, where would be found the man to take the direction of it, a man whose spirit was so akin to that of the founder that he would trust in God and depend on Him just as Mr. Mueller had done before him? Such the inquiries of the somewhat doubtful or fearful observers of the great and many-branched work carried on under Mr. Mueller's supervision.

To all such questions he had always one answer ready―his one uniform solution of all cares and perplexities: the Living God. He who had built the orphan houses could maintain them; He who had raised up one humble man to oversee the work in His name, could provide for a worthy successor, like Joshua who not only followed but succeeded Moses. Jehovah of hosts is not limited in resources.

Nevertheless much prayer was offered that the Lord would provide such a successor, and, in Mr. James Wright, the prayer was answered. He was not chosen, as Mr. Mueller's son-in-law, for the choice was made before his marriage to Lydia Mueller was even thought of by him. For more than thirty years, even from his boyhood, Mr. Wright had been well known to Mr. Mueller, and his growth in the things of God had been watched by him. For thirteen years he had already been his "right hand" in all most important matters; and, for nearly all of that time, had been held up before God as his successor, in the prayers of Mr. and Mrs. Mueller, both of whom felt divinely assured that God would fit him more and more to take the entire burden of responsibility.

When, in 1870, the wife fell asleep in Jesus, and Mr. Mueller was himself ill, he opened his heart to Mr. Wright as to the succession. Humility led him to shrink from such a post, and his then wife feared it would prove too burdensome for him; but all objections were overborne when it was seen and felt to be God's call. It was twenty-one months after this, when, in November, 1871, Mr. Wright was married to Mr. Mueller's only daughter and child, so that it is quite apparent that he had neither sought the position he now occupies, nor was he appointed to it because he was Mr. Mueller's son-in-law, for, at that time, his first wife was living and in health. From May, 1872, therefore, Mr. Wright shared with his father-in-law the responsibilities of the Institution, and gave him great joy as a partner and successor in full sympathy with all the great principles on which his work had been based.

A little over three years after Mr. Mueller's second marriage, in March, 1874, Mrs. Mueller was taken ill, and became, two days later, feverish and restless, and after about two weeks was attacked with hemorrhage which brought her also very near to the gates of death. She rallied; but fever and delirium followed and obstinate sleeplessness, till, for a second time, she seemed at the point of death. Indeed so low was her vitality that, as late as April 17th, a most experienced London physician said that he had never known any patient to recover from such an illness; and thus a third time all human hope of restoration seemed gone. And yet, in answer to prayer, Mrs. Mueller was raised up, and in the end of May, was taken to the seaside for change of air, and grew rapidly stronger until she was entirely restored. Thus the Lord spared her to be the companion of her husband in those years of missionary touring which enabled him to bear such world-wide witness. Out of the shadow of his griefs this beloved man of God ever came to find that divine refreshment which is as the "shadow of a great rock in a weary land."

 
 
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