GEORGE MUELLER OF BRISTOL
A Glance At The Gifts And The Givers
THERE is One who still sits over against the
Treasury, watching the gifts cast into it, and impartially weighing their
worth, estimating the rich man's millions and the widow's mites, not by the
amount given, but by the motives which impel and the measure of
self-sacrifice accepted for the Lord's sake.
The ample supplies poured into Mr. Mueller's hands came alike from those who had abundance of wealth and from those whose only abundance was that of deep poverty, but the rills as well as the rivers were from God. It is one of the charms of this life-story to observe the variety of persons and places, sums of money and forms of help, connected with the donations made to the Lord's work; and the exact adaptation between the need and the supply, both as to time and amount. Some instances of this have been given in the historic order; but to get a more complete view of the lessons which they suggest it is helpful to classify some of the striking and impressive examples, which are so abundant, and which afford such valuable hints as to the science and the art of giving.
Valuable lessons may be drawn from the beautiful spirit shown by givers and from the secret history of their gifts.
In some cases the facts were not known till long after, even by Mr. Mueller himself; and when known, could not be disclosed to the public while the parties were yet alive. But when it became possible and proper to unveil these hidden things they were revealed for the glory of God and the good of others, and shine on the pages of this record like stars in the sky. Paul rejoiced in the free-will offerings of Philippian disciples, not because he desired a gift, but fruit that might abound to their account; not because their offerings ministered to his necessity, but because they became a sacrifice of a sweet smell acceptable, well pleasing to God. Such joy constantly filled Mr. Mueller's heart. He was daily refreshed and reinvigorated by the many proofs that the gifts received had been first sanctified by prayer and self-denial. He lived and breathed amid the fragrance of sweet-savour offerings, permitted for more than threescore years to participate in the joy of the Lord Himself over the cheerful though often costly gifts of His people. By reason of identification with his Master, the servant caught the sweet scent of these sacrifices as their incense rose from His altars toward heaven. Even on earth the self-denials of his own life found compensation in thus acting in the Lord's behalf in receiving and disbursing these gifts; and, he says,
"the Lord thus impressed on me from the beginning that the orphan houses and work were HIS, not MINE."
Many a flask of spikenard, very precious,
broken upon the feet of the Saviour, for the sake of the orphans, or the
feeding of starving souls with the Bread of Life, filled the house with the
odour of the ointment, so that to dwell there was to breathe a hallowed
atmosphere of devotion.
Among the first givers to the work was a poor needle-woman, who, to Mr. Mueller's surprise, brought one hundred pounds. She earned by her work only an average, per week, of three shillings and sixpence, and was moreover weak in body. A small legacy of less than five hundred pounds from her grandmother's estate had come to her at her father's death by the conditions of her grandmother's will. But that father had died a drunkard and a bankrupt, and her brothers and sisters had settled with his creditors by paying them five shillings to the pound. To her conscience, this seemed robbing the creditors of three fourths of their claim, and, though they had no legal hold upon her, she privately paid them the other fifteen shillings to the pound, of the unpaid debts of her father. Moreover when her unconverted brother and two sisters gave each fifty pounds to the widowed mother, she as a child of God felt that she should give double that amount. By this time her own share of the legacy was reduced to a small remainder, and it was out of this that she gave the one hundred pounds for the orphan work!
As Mr. Mueller's settled principle was never to grasp eagerly at any gift whatever the need or the amount of the gift, before accepting this money he had a long conversation with this woman, seeking to prevent her from giving either from an unsanctified motive or in unhallowed haste, without counting the cost. He would in such a case dishonour his Master by accepting the gift, as though God were in need of our offerings. Careful scrutiny, however, revealed no motives not pure and Christlike; this woman had calmly and deliberately reached her decision.
"The Lord Jesus," she said, "has given His last drop of blood for me, and should I not give Him this hundred pounds!"
He who comes into contact with such givers
in his work for God finds therein a means of grace.
This striking incident lends a pathetic interest to the beginnings of the orphan work, and still further trace the story of this humble needlewoman. She had been a habitual giver, but so unobtrusively that, while she lived, not half a dozen people knew of either the legacy or of this donation. Afterward, however, it came to the light that in many cases she had quietly and most unostentatiously given food, clothing, and like comforts to the deserving poor. Her gifts were so disproportionate to her means that her little capital rapidly diminished. Mr. Mueller was naturally very reluctant to accept what she brought, until he saw that the love of Christ constrained her. He could then do no less than to receive her offering, in his Master's name, while like the Master he exclaimed,
"O woman, great is thy faith!"
Five features made her benevolence praiseworthy.
First, all these deeds of charity were done in secret and without any show;
and she therefore was kept humble, not puffed up with pride through human applause;
her personal habits of dress and diet remained as simple after her legacy as before,
and to the last she worked with her needle for her own support;
and, finally, while her earnings were counted in shillings and pence, her givings were counted in sovereigns or five-pound notes, and in one case by the hundred pounds.
Her money was entirely gone, years before she was called higher, but the faithful God never forgot His promise:
"I will never leave thee nor forsake thee."
Never left to want, even after bodily
weakness forbade her longer to ply her needle, she asked no human being for
help, but in whatever straits made her appeal to God, and was not only left
to suffer no lack, but, in the midst of much bodily suffering, her mouth was
filled with holy song.
Mr. Mueller records the first bequest as from a dear lad who died in the faith. During his last illness, he had received a gift of some new silver coins; and he asked that this, his only treasure in money, might be sent for the orphans. With pathetic tenderness Mr. Mueller adds that this precious little legacy of six shillings sixpence halfpenny, received September 15, 1837, was the first they ever had. Those who estimate all donations by money-worth can little understand how welcome such a bequest was; but to such a man this small donation, bequeathed by one of Christ's little ones, and representing all he possessed, was of inestimable worth.
In May, 1842, a gold watch and chain were accompanied by a brief note, the contents of which suggest the possibilities of service, open to us through the voluntary limitation of artificial or imaginary wants. The note read thus:
"A pilgrim does not want such a watch as this to make him happy; one of an inferior kind will do to show him how swiftly time flies, and how fast he is hastening on to that Canaan where time will be no more: so that it is for you to do with this what it seemeth good to you. It is the last relic of earthly vanity, and, while I am in the body, may I be kept from all idolatry!"
In March, 1884, a contribution reached Mr. Mueller from one who had been enabled in a like spirit to increase the amount over all previous gifts by the sale of some jewelry which had been put away in accordance with 1 Peter iii.3. How much superfluous ornament, worn by disciples, might be blessedly sacrificed for the Lord's sake! The one ornament which is in His sight of great price would shine with far more lustre if it were the only one worn.
["But let it be the hidden
man of the heart,
in that which is not corruptible,
even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit,
which is in the sight of God of great price"
(1Peter 3:4). --WStS Scripture annotation.]
Another instance of turning all things to
account was seen in the case of a giver who sent a box containing four old
crown pieces which had a curious history. They were the wedding-day present
of a bridegroom to his bride, who reluctant to spend her husband's first
gift, kept them until she passed them over, as heirlooms, to her four
grandchildren. They were thus at last put out to usury, after many years of
gathering "rust" in hoarded idleness and uselessness. Little did bridegroom
or bride foresee how these coins, after more than a hundred years, would come
forth from their hiding-place to be put to the Lord's uses. Few people have
ever calculated how much is lost to every good cause by the simple withdrawal
of money from circulation. Those four crown pieces had they been carefully
invested, so as to double in value, by compound interest, every ten years,
would have increased to one thousand pounds during the years they had lain
One gift was sent in, as an offering to the Lord, instead of being used to purchase an "engagement-ring," by two believers who desired their lives to be united by that highest bond, the mutual love of the Lord who spared not His own blood for them.
At another time, a box came containing a new satin jacket, newly bought, but sacrificed as a snare to pride. Its surrender marked an epoch, for henceforth the owner determined to spend in dress only what is needful, and not to waste the Lord's money on costly apparel. Enlightened believers look on all things as inalienably God's, and, even in the voluntary diversion of money into sacred rather than selfish channels, still remember that they give to Him only what is His own!
"The little child feels proud that he can drop the money into the box after the parent has supplied the means, and told him to do so; and so God's children are sometimes tempted to think that they are giving of their own, and to be proud over their gifts, forgetting the divine Father who both gives us all we have and bids us give all back to Him."
A gift of two thousand pounds on January 29,
1872, was accompanied by a letter confessing that the possession of property
had given the writer much trouble of mind, and it had been disposed of from a
conviction that the Lord "saw it not good" for him to hold so much and
therefor allowed its possession to be a curse rather than a blessing.
Fondness for possessions always entails [a] curse, and external riches thus
become a source of internal poverty. It is doubtful whether any child of God
ever yet hoarded wealth without losing in spiritual attainment and enjoyment.
Greed is one of the lowest and most destructive of vices and turns a man into
the likeness of the coin he worships, making him hard, cold, metallic, and
unsympathetic, so that, as has been quaintly said, he drops into his coffin
"with a chink."
God estimates what we give by what we keep, for it is possible to bestow large sums and yet reserve so much larger amounts that no self-denial is possible. Such giving to the Lord costs us nothing.
In 1853, a brother in the Lord took out of his pocket a roll of bank-notes, amounting to one hundred and ten pounds, and put it into Mr. Mueller's hand, it being more than one half of his entire worldly estate. Such giving is an illustration of self-sacrifice on a large scale, and brings corresponding blessing.
The motives prompting gifts were often unusually suggestive. In October, 1857, a donation came from a Christian merchant who, having sustained a heavy pecuniary loss, wished to sanctify his loss by a gift to the Lord's work. Shortly after, another offering was handed in by a young man in thankful remembrance that twenty-five years before Mr. Mueller had prayed over him, as a child, that God would convert him. Yet another gift, of thirty-five hundred pounds, came to him in 1858, with a letter stating that the giver had further purposed to give to the orphan work the chief preference in his will, but had now seen it to be far better to act as his own executor and give the whole amount while he lived. Immense advantage would accrue, both to givers and to the causes they purpose to promote, were this principle generally adopted! There is "many a slip betwixt the cup" of the legator and "the lip" of the legatee. Even a wrong wording of a will has often forfeited or defeated the intent of a legacy. Mr. Mueller had to warn intending donors that nothing that was reckoned as real estate was available for legacies for charitable institutions, nor even money lent on real estate or in any other way derived therefrom. These conditions no longer exist, but they illustrate the ease with which a will may often be made void, and the design of a bequest be defeated.
Many donors were led to send thank-offerings for avoided or averted calamities: as for example, for a sick horse, given up by the veterinary surgeon as lost, but which recovered in answer to prayer. Another donor, who broke his left arm, sends grateful acknowledgment to God that it was not the right arm, or some more vital part like the head or neck.
The offerings were doubly precious because of the unwearied faithfulness of God who manifestly prompted them, and who kept speaking to the hearts of thousands, leading them to give so abundantly and constantly that no want was unsupplied. In 1859, so great were the outlays, for the work that if day by day, during the whole three hundred and sixty-five, fifty pounds had been received, the income would not have been more than enough. Yet a surprising variety and number of ways, and from persons and places no less numerous and various, donations came in. Not one of twenty givers was personally known to Mr. Mueller, and no one of all contributors had ever been asked for a gift, and yet, up to November, 1858, over six hundred thousand pounds had already been received, and in amounts varying from eighty-one hundred pounds down to a single farthing.
Unique circumstances connected with some donations made them remarkable. While resting at Ilfracombe, in September, 1865, a gentleman gave to Mr. Mueller a sum of money, at the same time narrating the facts which led to the gift. He was a hard-working business man, wont to doubt the reality of spiritual things, and strongly questioned the truth of the narrative of answered prayers which he had read from Mr. Mueller's pen. But, in view of the simple straightforward story, he could not rest in his doubts, and at last proposed to himself a test as to whether or not God was indeed with Mr. Mueller, as he declared. He wished to buy a certain property if rated at a reasonable valuation; and he determined, if he should secure it at the low price which he set for himself, he would give to him one hundred pounds. He authorized a bid to be put in, in his behalf, but, curious to get the earlier information as to the success of his venture, he went himself to the place of sale, and was surprised to find the property actually knocked off to him at his own price. Astonished at what he regarded as a proof that God was really working with Mr. Mueller and for him, he made up his mind to go in person and pay over the sum of money to him, and so make his acquaintance and see the man whose prayers God answered. Not finding him at Bristol, he had followed him to Ilfracombe.
Having heard his story, and having learned that he was from a certain locality, Mr. Mueller remarked upon the frequent proofs of God's strange way of working on the minds of parties wholly unknown to him and leading them to send in gifts; and he added:
"I had a letter from a lawyer in your very neighbourhood, shortly since, asking for the proper form for a bequest, as a client of his, not named, wished to leave one thousand pounds to the orphan work."
It proved that the man with whom he was then
talking was this nameless client, who, being convinced that his doubts were
wrong, had decided to provide for this legacy.
In August, 1884, a Christian brother from the United States called to see Mr. Mueller. He informed him how greatly he had been blessed of God through reading his published testimony to God's faithfulness; and that having, through his sister's death, come into the possession of some property, he had come across the sea, that he might see the orphan houses and know their founder, for himself, and hand over to him for the Lord's work the entire bequest of about seven hundred pounds.
Only seventeen days later, a letter accompanying a donation gave further joy to Mr. Mueller's heart. It was from the husband of one of the orphans who, in her seventeenth year, had left the institution, and to whom Mr. Mueller himself, on her departure, had given the first two volumes of the Reports. Her husband had read them with more spiritual profit than any volume except the Book of books, and had found his faith much strengthened. Being a lay preacher in the Methodist Free Church, the blessed impulses thus imparted to himself were used of God to inspire a like self-surrender in the class under his care.
These are a few examples of the countless encouragements that led Mr. Mueller, as he reviewed them, to praise God unceasingly.
A Christian physician enclosed ten pounds in a letter, telling how first he tried a religion of mere duty and failed; then, after a severe illness, learned a religion of love, apprehending the love of God to himself in Christ and so learning how to love others. In his days of darkness he had been a great lover of flowers and had put up several plant-houses; flower-culture was his hobby, and a fine collection of rare plants, his pride. He took down and sold one of these conservatories and sent the proceeds as
"the price of an idol, cast down by God's power."
Another giver enclosed a like amount from the sale of unnecessary books and pictures; and a poor man his half crown,
"the fruit of a little tree in his garden."
A poor woman, who had devoted the progeny of
a pet rabbit to the orphan work, when the young became fit for sale changed
her mind and "kept back a part of the price"; that part, however,
two rabbits, she found dead on the day when they were to be sold.
In July, 1877, ten pounds from an anonymous source were accompanied by a letter which conveys another instructive lesson. Years before, the writer had resolved before God to discontinue a doubtful habit, and send the cost of his indulgence to the Institution. The vow, made in time of trouble, was unpaid until God brought the sin to remembrance by a new trouble, and by a special message from the Word:
"Grieve not the Spirit of God."
The victory was then given over the habit, and, the practice having annually cost about twenty-six shillings, the full amount was sent to cover the period during which the solemn covenant had not been kept, with the promise of further gifts in redemption of the same promise to the Lord. This instance conveys more than one lesson. It reminds us of the costliness of much of our self-indulgence. Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, in submitting the Budget for 1897, remarked that what is annually wasted in the unsmoked remnants of cigars and cigarettes in Britain is estimated at a million and a quarterpounds―the equivalent of all that is annually spent on foreign missions by British Christians. And many forms of self-gratification, in no way contributing to either health or profit, would, if what they cost were dedicated to the Lord, make His treasuries overflow. Again, this incident reminds us of the many vows, made in times of trouble, which have no payment in time of relief. Many sorrows come back, like clouds that return after the rain, to remind of broken pledges and unfulfilled obligations, whereby have grieved the Holy Spirit of God.
"Pay that which thou last vowed; for God hath no pleasure in fools."
And again we are here taught how a sensitive
and enlightened conscience will make restitution to God as well as to man;
and that past unfaithfulness to a solemn covenant cannot be made good merely
by keeping to its terms for the future. No honest man dishonours a
past debt, or compromises with his integrity by simply beginning anew and
paying as he goes. Reformation takes a retrospective glance and begins in
restitution and reparation for all previous wrongs and unfaithfulness. It is
one of the worst evils of our day that even disciples are so ready to usury
the financial and moral debts of their past life in the grave of a too-easy
One donor, formerly living in Tunbridge Wells, followed a principle of giving, the reverse of the worldly way. As his own family increased, instead of decreasing his gifts, he gave, for each child given to him of God, the average cost of maintaining one orphan, until, having seven children, he was supporting seven orphans.
An anonymous giver wrote:
"It was my idea that when man had sufficient for his own wants, he ought then to supply the wants of others, and consequently I never had sufficient. I now clearly see that God expects us to give of what we have and not of what we have not, and to save the rest to Him. I therefore give in faith and love, knowing that if I first seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness, all other things will be added unto me."
Another sends five pounds in fulfilment of
seen promise that, if he succeeded in passing competitive examination for
civil service, he would make a thank-offering; And he adds that Satan had
repeatedly tried to persuade him that he could not afford it yet, and could
send it better in a little while. Many others have heard the same subtle
suggestion from the same master of wiles and father of lies. Postponement in
giving is usually its practical abandonment, for the habit of procrastination
grows with insensibly rapid development.
Habitual givers generally witnessed to the continual blessedness of systematic giving. Many who began by giving a tenth, and perhaps in a legal spirit, felt constrained by the growing joy of imparting, to increase, not the amount only, but the proportion, to a fifth, a fourth, third, and even a half of their profits. Some wholly reversed the law of appropriation with which they began; for at first they gave a tithe to the Lord's uses, reserving nine tenths, whereas later on they appropriated nine tenths to the Lord's uses, and reserved for themselves only a tithe. Those who learn the deep meaning of our Lord words,
"It is more blessed to give than to receive,"
find such joy in holding all things at His
disposal that even personal expenditures are subjected to the scrutiny of
conscience and love, lest anything be wasted in extravagance or careless
self-indulgence. Frances Ridley Havergal in her later years felt herself and
all she possessed to be fully and joyfully given up to God, that she never
went into a shop to spend a shilling without asking herself whether it would
be for God's glory.
Gifts were valued by Mr. Mueller only so far as they were the Lord's money, procured by lawful means given in the Lord's own way. To the last his course was therefore most conscientious in the caution with which he accepted offerings even in times of sorest extremity.
In October, 1842, he felt led to offer aid to a sister who seemed in great distress and destitution, offering to share with her, if need be, even his house and purse.
This offer drew out the acknowledgment that she had some five hundred pounds of her own; and her conversation revealed that this money was held as a provision against possible future want, and that she was leaning upon that instead of upon God. Mr. Mueller said but little to her, but after her withdrawal he besought the Lord to make it real to her the exhaustless riches she possessed in Christ, and her own heavenly calling, that she might be constrained to lay down at His feet the whole sum which was thus a snare to her faith and an idol to her love. Not a word spoken or written passed between him and her on the subject, nor did he ever see her; his express desire being that if any such step were to be taken by her, it might result from no human influence or persuasion, lest her subsequent regret might prove both a damage to herself and a dishonour to her Master.
For nearly four weeks, however, he poured out his heart to God for her deliverance from greed. Then she again sought an interview and told him how she had been day by day seeking to learn the will of God as to this hoarded sum, and had been led to a clear conviction that it should be laid entire upon His altar. Thus the goodly sum off five hundred pounds was within so easy reach, at a time of very great need, that a word from Mr. Mueller would secure it. Instead of saying that word, he exhorted her to make no such disposition of the money at that time, but to count the cost; to do nothing rashly lest she should repent it, but wait at least a fortnight more before reaching a final decision. His correspondence with this sister may be found fully spread out in his journal,* and is a model of devout carefulness lest he should snatch at a gift that might be prompted by wrong motives or given with an unprepared heart. When finally given, unexpected hindrances arose affecting her actual possession and transfer, so that more than a third of a year elapsed before it was received; but meanwhile there was on his part neither impatience nor distrust, nor did he even communicate further with her. To the glory of God let it be added that she afterward bore cheerful witness that never for a moment did she regret giving the whole sum to His service, and thus transferring her trust from the money to the Master.
*Narrative, I. 487 et seq.
In August, 1853, a poor widow of sixty, who
had sold the little house which constituted her whole property, put into an
orphan-house box elsewhere, for Mr. Mueller, the entire proceeds, ninety
pounds. Those who conveyed it to Mr. Mueller, knowing the circumstances,
urged her to retain at least a part of this sum, and prevailed on her to keep
five pounds and sent on the other eighty-five. Mr. Mueller learning the
facts, and, fearing lest the gift might result from a sudden impulse to be
afterward regretted, offered to pay her travelling expenses that he might
have an interview with her. He found her mind had been quite made up for ten
years before the house was sold that such disposition should be made of the
proceeds. But he was the more reluctant to accept the gift lest, as she had
already been prevailed on to take back five pounds of the original donation,
she might wish she had reserved more; and only after much urgency had failed
to persuade her to reconsider the step would he accept it. Even then,
however, lest he should be evil spoken of in the matter, he declined to
receive any part of the gift for personal uses.
In October, 1867, a small sum was sent in by one who had years before taken it from another, and who desired thus to make restitution, believing that the Christian believer from whom it was taken would approve of this method of restoring it. Mr. Mueller promptly returned it, irrespective of amount, that restitution might be made directly to the party who had been robbed or wronged, claiming that such party should first receive it and then dispose of it as might seem fit. As it did not belong to him who took it, it was not his to give even in another's behalf.
During a season of great straits Mr. Mueller received a sealed parcel containing money. He knew from whom it came, and that the donor was a woman not only involved in debt, but frequently asked by creditors for their lawful dues in vain. It was therefore clear that it was not her money, and therefore not hers to give; and without even opening the paper wrapper he returned it to the sender―and this at a time when there was not in hand enough to meet the expenses of that very day. In June, 1838, a stranger, who confessed to an act of fraud, wished through Mr. Mueller to make restitution, with interest; and, instead of sending the money by post, Mr. Mueller took pains to transmit it by bank orders, which thus enabled him, in case of need, to prove his fidelity in acting as a medium of transmission―an instance of the often-quoted maxim that it is the honest man who is most careful to provide things honest in the sight of all men.
Money sent as proceeds of a musical entertainment held for the benefit of the orphans in the south of Devon was politely returned. Mr. Mueller had no doubt of the kind intention of those who set this scheme on foot, but he felt that money for the work of God should not be obtained in this manner, and he desired only money provided in God's way.
Friends who asked that they might know whether the gifts had come at a particularly opportune time were referred to the next Report for answer. To acknowledge that the help came very seasonably would be an indirect revelation of need, and might be construed into an indirect appeal for more aid―as help that was peculiarly timed would soon be exhausted. And so this man of God consistently avoided any such disclosure of an exigency, lest his chief object should be hindered, namely,
"to show how blessed it is to deal with God alone, and to trust Him in the darkest moments."
And though the need was continual, and one
demand was no sooner met than another arose, he did not find this a trying
life nor did he ever tire of it.
As early as May, 1846, a letter from a brother contained the following paragraph:
"With regard to property, I do not see my way clearly. I trust it is all indeed at the disposal of the Lord; and if you would let me know of any need of it in His service, any sum under two hundred pounds shall be at your disposal at about a week's notice."
The need at that time was great. How easy
and natural to write back that the orphan work was then in want of help, and
that, as Mr. Mueller was just going away from Bristol for rest, it would be a
special comfort if his correspondent would send on, say a hundred and ninety
pounds or so! But to deal with the Lord alone in the whole matter seemed so
indispensable, both for the strengthening of his own faith and for the
effectiveness of his testimony to the church and the world, that at once this
temptation was seen to be a snare, and he replied that only to the Lord could
the need of any part of the work be confided.
Money to be laid up as a fund for his old age or possible seasons of illness or family emergencies was always declined. Such a donation of one hundred pounds was received October 12, 1856, with a note so considerate and Christian that the subtle temptation to lay up for himself treasures on earth would have triumphed but for a heart fixed immovably in the determination that there should be no dependence upon any such human provision. He had settled the matter beyond raising the question again, that he would live from day to day upon the Lord's bounty, and would make but one investment, namely, using whatever means God gave, to supply the necessities of the poor, depending on God richly to repay him in the hour of his own need, according to the promise:
"He that hath pity upon the
poor lendeth unto the Lord,
And that which he hath given will He pay him again."
God so owned, at once, this disposition on Mr. Mueller's part that his courteous letter, declining the gift for himself, led the donor not only to ask him to use the hundred pounds for the orphan work, but to add to this sum a further gift of two hundred pounds more.
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