BIRTH—EARLY DISHONESTY—INSENSIBILITY—CONFIRMATION IN THE STATE CHURCH—DISSOLUTENESS OF LIFE—THE HARD WAY OF TRANSGRESSORS—THE GYMNASIUM AT NORDHAUSEN—THE UNIVERSITY AT HALLE—ROVINGS.
I was born at Kroppenstaedt, near Halberstadt, in the kingdom of Prussia, September 27, 1805. In January, 1810, my parents removed to Heimersleben, about four miles from Kroppenstaedt, where my father was appointed collector in the excise.
My father, who educated his children on worldly principles, gave us much money, considering our age. The result was, that it led me and my brother into many sins. Before I was ten years old, I repeatedly took of the government money which was intrusted to my father, and which he had to make up; till one day, as he had repeatedly missed money, he detected my theft, by depositing a counted sum in the room where I was, and leaving me to myself for a while. Being thus left alone, I took some of the money, and hid it under my foot in my shoe. When my father, after his return, had counted and missed the money, I was searched and my theft detected.
When I was between ten and eleven years of age I was sent to Halberstadt, there to be prepared for the university; for my father’s desire was that I should become a clergyman; not, indeed, that thus I might serve God, but that I might have a comfortable living. My time was now spent in studying, reading novels, and indulging, though so young, in sinful practices. Thus it continued till I was fourteen years old, when my mother was suddenly removed. The night she was dying, I, not knowing of her illness, was playing at cards till two in the morning, and on the next day, being the Lord’s day, I went with some of my companions in sin to a tavern, and then we went about the streets half intoxicated.
This bereavement made no lasting impression on my mind. I grew worse and worse. Three or four days before I was confirmed, and thus admitted to partake of the Lord’s Supper, I was guilty of gross immorality; and the very day before my confirmation, when I was in the vestry with the clergyman to confess my sins, after a formal manner, I defrauded him; for I handed over to him only the twelfth part of the fee which my father had given me for him. In this state of heart, without prayer, without true repentance, without faith, without knowledge of the plan of salvation, I was confirmed, and took the Lord’s Supper, on the Sunday after Easter, 1820. Yet I was not without some feeling about the solemnity of the thing, and stayed at home in the afternoon and evening, whilst the other boys and girls, who had been confirmed with me, walked about in the fields.
My time till midsummer, 1821, was spent partly in study, but in a great degree in playing the piano-forte and guitar, reading novels, frequenting taverns, forming resolutions to become different, yet breaking them almost as fast as they were made. My money was often spent on my sinful pleasures, through which I was now and then brought into trouble, so that once, to satisfy my hunger, I stole a piece of coarse bread, the allowance of a soldier who was quartered in the house where I lodged.
At midsummer, 1821, my father obtained an appointment at Schoenebeck, near Magdeburg, and I embraced the opportunity of entreating him to remove me to the cathedral classical school of Magdeburg; for I thought that if I could but leave my companions in sin, and get out of certain snares, and be placed under other tutors, I should then live a different life. My father consented, and I was allowed to leave Halberstadt, and to stay at Heimersleben till Michaelmas. Being thus quite my own master, I grew still more idle, and lived as much as before in all sorts of sin. When Michaelmas came, I persuaded my father to leave me at Heimersleben till Easter, and to let me read the classics with a clergyman living in the same place. I was now living on the premises belonging to my father, under little real control, and intrusted with a considerable sum of money, which I had to collect for my father, from persons who owed it to him. My habits soon led me to spend a considerable part of this money, giving receipts for different sums, yet leaving my father to suppose I had not received them.
In November, I went on a pleasure excursion to Magdeburg, where I spent six days in much sin, and though my absence from home had been found out by my father before I returned from thence, yet I took all the money I could obtain, and went to Brunswick, after I had, through a number of lies, obtained permission from my tutor. I spent a week at Brunswick, in an expensive hotel. At the end of the week my money was expended. I then went, without money, to another hotel, in a village near Brunswick, where I spent another week in an expensive way of living. At last, the owner of the hotel, suspecting that I had no money, asked for payment, and I was obliged to leave my best clothes as security. I then walked about six miles, to Wolfenbuttel, went to an inn, and began again to live as if I had plenty of money. On the second or third morning I went quietly out of the yard, and then ran off; but being suspected and observed, and therefore seen to go off, I was immediately called after, and so had to return. I was arrested, and being suspected to be a thief, was examined for about three hours, and then sent to jail. I now found myself, at the age of sixteen, an inmate of the same dwelling with thieves and murderers. I was locked up in this place day and night, without permission to leave my cell.
I was in prison from Dec. 18, 1821, till January 12, 1822, when the keeper told me to go with him to the police office. Here I found that the commissioner before whom I had been tried, had acquainted my father with my conduct; and thus I was kept in prison till my father sent the money which was needed for my travelling expenses, to pay my debt in the inn, and for my maintenance in the prison. So ungrateful was I now for certain little kindnesses shown to me by a fellow-prisoner, that, although I had promised to call on his sister, to deliver a message from him, I omitted to do so; and so little had I been benefited by this, my chastisement, that, though I was going home to meet an angry father, only two hours after I had left the town where I had been imprisoned, I chose an avowedly wicked person as my travelling companion for a great part of my journey.
My father, who arrived two days after I had reached Heimersleben, after having severely beaten me, took me home to Schoenebeck, intending, at Easter, to send me to a classical school at Halle, that I might be under strict discipline and the continual inspection of a tutor. Easter came, and I easily persuaded him to let me stay at home till Michaelmas. But after that period he would not consent to my remaining any longer with him, and I left home, pretending to go to Halle to be examined. But having a hearty dislike to the strict discipline of which I had heard, I went to Nordhausen, and had myself examined to be received into that school. I then went home, but never told my father a word of all this deception till the day before my departure, which obliged me to invent a whole chain of lies. He was then very angry; but at last, through my entreaties and persuasion, he gave way and allowed me to go. This was in October, 1822.
I continued at Nordhausen two years and six months. During this time I studied with considerable diligence the Latin classics, French, history, my own language, etc.; but did little in Hebrew, Greek, and the mathematics. I lived in the house of the director, and got, through my conduct, highly into his favour, so much so that I was held up by him in the first class as an example to the rest. I used now to rise regularly at four, winter and summer, and generally studied all the day, with little exception, till ten at night.
But whilst I was thus outwardly gaining the esteem of my fellow-creatures, I did not care in the least about God, but lived secretly in much sin, in consequence of which I was taken ill, and for thirteen weeks confined to my room. During my illness I had no real sorrow of heart, yet, being under certain natural impressions of religion, I read through Klopstock’s works without weariness. I cared nothing about the word of God. I had about three hundred books of my own, but no Bible. Now and then I felt that I ought to become a different person, and I tried to amend my conduct, particularly when I went to the Lord’s Supper, as I used to do twice every year, with the other young men. The day previous to attending that ordinance, I used to refrain from certain things; and on the day itself I was serious, and also swore once or twice to God, with the emblem of the broken body in my mouth, to become better, thinking that for the oath’s sake I should be induced to reform. But after one or two days were over, all was forgotten, and I was as bad as before.
At Easter, 1825, I became a member of the University of Halle, and that with very honourable testimonials. I thus obtained permission to preach in the Lutheran Establishment; but I was as truly unhappy and as far from God as ever. I had made strong resolutions now at last to change my course of life, for two reasons: first, because, without it, I thought no parish would choose me as their pastor; and secondly, that without a considerable knowledge of divinity I should never get a good living. But the moment I entered Halle, the university town, all my resolutions came to nothing. Being now more than ever my own master, I renewed my profligate life afresh, though now a student of divinity. Yet in the midst of it all I had a desire to renounce this wretched life, for I had no enjoyment in it, and had sense enough left to see that the end, one day or other, would be miserable. But I had no sorrow of heart on account of offending God.
One day, when I was in a tavern with some of my wild fellow-students, I saw among them one of my former school-fellows, named Beta, whom I had known four years before at Halberstadt, but whom at that time I had despised, because he was so quiet and serious. It now appeared well to me to choose him as my friend, thinking that, if I could but have better companions, I should by that means improve my own conduct. “Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm.”
This Beta was a backslider. When formerly he was so quiet at school, I have reason to believe it was because the Spirit of God was working on his heart; but now, having departed from the Lord, he tried to put off the ways of God more and more, and to enjoy the world of which he had known but little before. I sought his friendship, because I thought it would lead me to a steady life; and he gladly formed an acquaintance with me, as he told me afterwards, because he thought it would bring him into gay society.
At the commencement of August, Beta and I, with two other students, drove about the country for four days. When we returned, instead of being truly sorry on account of this sin, we thought of fresh pleasures; and as my love for travelling was stronger than ever, through what I had seen on this last journey, I proposed to my friends to set off for Switzerland. The obstacles in the way, the want of money, and the want of the passports, were removed by me. For, through forged letters from our parents, we procured passports, and through pledging all we could, particularly our books, we obtained as much money as we thought would be enough. Forty-three days we were day after day travelling, almost always on foot.
I had now obtained the desire of my heart. I had seen Switzerland. But still I was far from being happy. I was on this journey like Judas; for, having the common purse, I was a thief. I managed so that the journey cost me but two thirds of what it cost my friends. I had, by many lies, to satisfy my father concerning the travelling expenses. During the three weeks I stayed at home, I determined to live differently for the future. I was different for a few days; but when the vacation was over, and fresh students came, and, with them, fresh money, all was soon forgotten.
The opinion is often entertained that persons who become eminent for power in prayer and nearness of communion with God, owe their attainments to natural excellence of character, or to peculiarly favouring circumstances of early education. The narrative of the youth of Müller exhibits the fallaciousness of this view, and shows that the attainments which he made are within the reach of any one who will “ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not.”—Ed.