It is the 27th of September 2023. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
We start today’s show by heading to a 19th-century copy of the Newspaper of Record, the “Gray Lady”: the New York Times, specifically to the “From Our Own Correspondent” column on Wednesday, December 2nd, 1868.
For a column that regularly covered public interest stories and international miscellany, we find what might seem peculiar by modern standards. The author is in Bristol, England, and suggests that while some might recommend certain sights or a trip to nearby Bath, he is most interested in seeing the local orphanages.
He notes that the orphan houses are “built by George Mueller. They are known over the world as having been built and sustained now for many years by voluntary contributions… in answer to prayer.”
It is an article trying to come to grips with a rather remarkable character- the pastor and philanthropist who made news by changing the lives of tens of thousands and, according to Mueller, all by relying on prayer alone.
Today, the 27th of September, is the birthday of Mueller, and we will remember him via this article trying to make sense of a man who lived according to faith and prayer alone.
A quick note: you may see his last name spelled with a U with an umlaut (the two little dots) over it. You can anglicize this by adding an “E” after the “U” (the umlaut is saying: “there’s a hidden E here”). Müller himself pronounced his name “Meller” as if it were an e. You, of course, remember that pronunciation is a matter of custom and preference.
The article refers to Mueller as the “Elijah of the 19th century” and, while trying to remain religiously neutral, suggests the reader would do well to hear the man out.
He was born in 1805 in Prussia and lived, according to his own telling, a life of sin and revelry. He was given a good education but also spent a year in prison. His father sent him to the University of Halle to be a pastor- not because the boy was particularly spiritual but because it was a state job with good benefits. It was there, at Halle, that Mueller was converted at a nonconformist prayer meeting. He decided he would be a missionary, but his father would not pay for a job with such a lack of stability. So, George did what would become the pattern for his life: he would pray and wait for a sign. Within days, he received a knock on his door. Charles Hodge of Princeton Seminary needed someone to teach him and his colleagues German. Being fluent in English and German, he took the position and was able to pay his way through school.
He would move to England and join the Plymouth Brethren movement begun earlier by John Nelson Darby. Mueller would eventually split from Darby and form the “Open Brethren” movement. He had initially wanted to be a missionary to Poland but was invited to be the pastor at the Ebenezer chapel. He would give up his annual salary, claiming that he didn’t want to be beholden to the congregation but would rely on prayer alone. And, the reporter notes, it seems to have worked. He moved to Bristol and founded two chapels, Gideon and Bethesda, and would serve there for the remainder of his life (the article was written in 1868; Mueller died in 1898).
And it was there that he began Sunday schools and an institution for distributing Bibles and teaching Bible classes to young and old. He would be remarkably successful such that that reporter noted: “It struck me that a man who had got 2 million in gold in a few years merely by praying for it, in this unmiraculous and materialistic period, was a phenomenon of some attention.”
Inspired by the work of August Herman Francke in Halle, Mueller decided that orphanages were of primary importance and that the scriptures undoubtedly called for the care of orphans. And so, he went about praying and receiving and building. A total of 5 orphanages were built, and by 1868, the reporter recounted over 1300 orphan children currently housed, nearly 2,500 already cared for, over 16,000 educated, and almost 50,000 bibles given away. By the time of his death, over 10,000 orphans were taken in, and the equivalent of over 14 million dollars raised. He would go on to travel as an evangelist and record his stories in a popular autobiography that brought more attention (and funds) to his ministry. The New York Times reporter wonders if he’s a fanatic but also notes how single-minded he is in his work and faith in prayer. The article ends, “Good works, carried on by supernatural means, appeal strongly to all who believe in the supernatural.” Mueller, a giant of faith and an example of praying without ceasing, would agree. George Mueller would continue in prayer and work for another 3o years, dying in 1898. Born on the 27th of September in 1805, he was 92 years old.
The last word for today is from the daily lectionary- appropriate for today- from Matthew 18.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
2 He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 27th of September 2023, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who randomly places umlauts over letters to seem exotic and mysterious he is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who first learned about umlauts by way of the band Mötley Crüe- who do not use them correctly- I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be OK.