George Müller was born September 27, 1805, in Kroppenstädt, Prussia; now Kroppenstedt, Germany. George was the second child of Johann and Sophie Müller. In 1810, the family moved to Heimersleben, where the government hired Johann to collect taxes for the Prussian government.
Müller’s autobiography and other commentators indicate that his early life would not have been considered religious. In fact, many would classify him more as a vagrant, thief, and gambler. He records that by age ten he was stealing the collected tax money from his father, drinking and playing cards while his mother, Sophie, lay dying.
It is not clear from records how the events occurred that led him to seminary at the University of Halle, Germany. Nonetheless, Müller described his life as…
“wicked behaviour and unrepentant spirit...Despite my sinful lifestyle and cold heart, God had mercy on me. I was as careless as ever. I had no Bible and had not read any Scripture for years. I seldom went to church; and, out of custom only, I took the Lord’s Supper twice a year. I never heard the gospel preached. Nobody told me that Jesus meant for Christians, by the help of God, to live according to the Holy Scriptures.
George’s life changed while attending a religious meeting at the home of a fellow classmate, Beta. He described that during the meeting, he was “so moved” that he began to feel a profound transformation taking place within him. He stated in his autobiography, “[Christ] began a work of grace in me. Even though I scarcely had any knowledge of who God truly was…”
Other readings indicate that Müller attended the meeting and witnessed a “man on his knees praying to God” and “fell under conviction.” He returned to his room, knelt by his bed, and asked God to save him. Müller wrote that he “immediately stopped drinking, stealing, and lying” and eventually decided to be a missionary for Christ.
In 1829, George began work with Jews in the Anglican-sponsored “London Society for Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews.” While studying and writing there, he became very ill and left London to recuperate by the seashores of Teignmouth, England. While there, he met and befriended Henry Craik, a Scottish herbalist, theologian, and preacher. After recuperating from illness, he returned to work with the Society but desired to be sent out among the people to preach. Unfortunately, he soon became ill again and left the Society to begin other work in other Christian causes.
Müller moved back to the shores of Teignmouth and preached several times in Henry Craik’s congregation. Soon, Müller was a widely known preacher with a growing itinerary of preaching locations. However, despite his growing notoriety, he accepted the pastorate of Ebenezer Chapel in Shaldon, Davon, England. He was compensated a meager 55 British pounds per year.
On October 7, 1830, George married Mary Groves and began his life with a partner in ministry. From then on, George became more emboldened in Christian ministry efforts. So much so, that by the end of October, he refused his meager salary on the principle that his members should give out of piety and not out of duty. He also ended the practice of “renting” church pews by the wealthy. He argued in his writing that such “renting” was an unfair privilege to the wealthy, and created divisions within the congregation. [Perhaps that’s why church folks still lay claim to seats in church?]
In May 1832, Müller accepted the pastorate of Bethesda Chapel at the behest of Craik, who was pastoring in Bristol. Together Müller and Craik (co-pastored?) the Gideon Chapel and Bethesda Chapel.
[During my travels to the region, both churches were destroyed during WW2. However, the “Open Brethren” placed many monuments and plaques. More on this below.]
In 1834, Müller and Craik began writing and distributing gospel tracks and Bibles and establishing religious schools for children and adults. He may have been the unofficial creator of what we now call “Sunday School.” None of his schools received governmental assistance and were supported entirely by donations.
According to Müller’s autobiography, Autobiography of George Müller: A Million and a Half in Answer to Prayer, the organizing group the “Scriptural Knowledge Institution for Home and Abroad,” disbursed 1,381,171 British pounds (equivalent to $136 million US dollars today). The organization distributed more than 285,000 Bibles, 1,450,000 New Testaments, and almost 245,000 other religious materials. These materials and Bibles were translated into twenty different languages, and shipped worldwide. This work continues today through various relationships and forms of the “Open Brethren” fellowships and agencies.
In 1836, George and Mary Müller began working with orphans in Bristol. They opened their home (located at 6 Wilson Street, Bristol, England) to house thirty girls. Soon more houses were available and were fully furnished along Wilson Street. Soon the Müllers were organizing care for 130 boys and girls.
Later in 1849, the Müllers began working on a single home that would house about 300 children. The home was named “Ashley Down.” By the end of May 1870, the orphanage ministry grew exponentially to serve over 2,000 children in 5 newly built homes.
Remarkably, George Müller never requested funds and never held a fundraiser. Instead, he stated that he “simply prayed,” and God blessed them with what they needed. One well-known example in several biographies is when the cupboards were bare, and the children were sitting at the table waiting for breakfast. So Müller began to pray for God to bless them. While he was praying, a baker knocked on the door with sufficient bread to feed the children. Next, a milkman’s cart broke down in front of the orphanage, and he gave them all of his milk to keep it from spoiling.
Mary Müller died in 1870, and George remarried in 1871 to Susannah Sanger. Together they embarked on a 17-year missionary journey that took them throughout England and Europe, Canada and the United States, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Turkey, Greece, Bohemia, Russia, India, Singapore, Japan, China, Australia, New Zealand, and many other countries. The Müllers paid for their accommodations and travel expenses from unsolicited donations, as was their custom. He was quite fluent in several languages and preached regularly in English, French, and German, with many other sermons translated into numerous languages.
George Müller’s theology was not much different from a majority of mainline protestant denominations today; however, he had considerable difficulty finding a home among many of those groups. He held firmly to his belief in the Bible as God’s Word as a “standard of judgment on spiritual things.” He attested that the Holy Spirit is the teacher and guide to the believer who wishes to seek spiritual knowledge and a deeper relationship with God through the Scriptures. He, like Free Will Baptists, believed in the general provision made by God through Christ to save all who would desire salvation. However, some records indicate he was a Calvinist who believed in doctrines of divine election, limited atonement, and perseverance of the saints.
George and his friend Henry Craik (along with such notables as Anthony Groves, Edward Cronin, John Gifford Bellett, Benjamin Newton, and John Nelson Darby) established the Plymouth Brethren.
[John Nelson Darby became a distinct leader within the Plymouth Brethren movement. This is important because under his leadership came Cyrus Ingerson Scofield. You may remember him as C.I. Scofield, the compiler and commentator of the Scofield Reference Bible. These individuals and the Plymouth Brethren popularized “dispensational theology” held by innumerable Fundamentalist Christians. I hope to explore Darby and Scofield in other installments of this column. Each one is an interesting personality who has shaped the landscape of Christian life, theology, and history.]
The Plymouth Brethren were a loosely organized fellowship of believers who trace the essence of their beginnings to Dublin, Ireland. They held no creed but the scripture alone. They do not see themselves as a “denomination” per se, but more of a fellowship of “like-minded free churches.” They desire to “meet together in the name of Jesus Christ.” However, this utopian idea eventually faded, and the fellowship divided into “Open” and “Exclusive” Brethren groups based on who was allowed to attend the fellowship meetings. The Open Brethren welcomed non-Christians and non-baptised Christians to join for worship. The Exclusives excluded the two group all togthers. The primary doctrines that split the two groups centered squarely on the pre-tribulation vs. post-tribulation doctrines. The Open Brethren, with Müller and others, were post-tribulationist, and John Nelson Darby and the Exclusives were (no doubt) pre-tribulationists.
In 1892, George Müller returned to England with his wife Susannah to establish a trust fund to continue his work with orphans and other charitable work around the world. Unfortunately, there are very few details concerning the couple’s final years, only that they continued to minister in Bristol, England, until their passing. Susannah died on January 13, 1894, and George died on March 10, 1898, at 92. They had two children; Lydia and Elijah.
The inscription on his tomb reads:
He trusted in God with whom “nothing shall be impossible” And in his beloved Son Jesus Christ our Lord who said “I go unto my father, and whatever ye shall ask in my name that will I do that the father may be glorified in the son.” And in his inspired word which declares that all things are possible to him that believeth.” And God fulfilled these declarations in the experience of his servant by enabling him to provide and care for about ten thousand orphans.
The George Müller Charitable Trust continues to exist and, in keeping with George’s approach, does not solicit donations but seeks money only through God’s providence through prayer alone. According to their website, they continue to serve the Bristol area by “serving children, young people, and families with physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs; and encourage giving to support the mission, social care, relief, and development work across the world.”
References and Further Reading
Müller, George. Autobiography of George Müller: A Million and a Half in Answer to Prayer. Vestavia Hills, AL: Solid Ground Christian Books. 2004
Müller, George, compiled by G. Fred. Bergin, Autobiography of George Müller (Bristol, The Bible and Tract Warehouse, Centenary Memorial edition, 1905) Accessed: https://archive.org/details/autobiography-of-george-muller/page/n3/mode/2up
“GEORGE MULLER” Documentary on YouTube. Published by Revelation TV. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQ8DKz1mpa8. Accessed 12/30/2022. 59:30.
Harding, William Henry. The Life of George Müller. London/Edinburgh: Oliphants. 1914. & 2009.
The George Müller Trust. https://www.mullers.org/Accessed 12/30/2022.