DESIRE FOR MISSIONARY LABOUR—PROVIDENTIAL RELEASE FROM MILITARY SERVICE—VISIT AT HOME—LED TO THE LAND OF HIS FUTURE LABOURS—PROGRESS IN RELIGIOUS KNOWLEDGE—DESIRE FOR IMMEDIATE USEFULNESS.
In August, 1827, I heard that the Continental Society in England intended to send a minister to Bucharest, the residence of many nominal German Christians, to help an aged brother in the work of the Lord. After consideration and prayer, I offered myself for this work to Professor Tholuck, who was requested to look out for a suitable individual; for with all my weakness I had a great desire to live wholly for God. Most unexpectedly my father gave his consent, though Bucharest was above a thousand miles from my home, and as completely a missionary station as any other. I now prepared with earnestness for the work of the Lord. I set before me the sufferings which might await me. And he who once so fully served Satan was now willing, constrained by the love of Christ, rather to suffer affliction for the sake of Jesus than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season. I also prayed with a degree of earnestness concerning my future work.
One day, at the end of October, the above-mentioned brother, Hermann Ball, missionary to the Jews, stated that he feared, on account of his health, he should be obliged to give up labouring among the Jews. When I heard this, I felt a peculiar desire to fill up his place. About this very time, also, I became exceedingly fond of the Hebrew language, which I had cared about very little up to that time, and which I had merely studied now and then, from a sense of duty. But now I studied it, for many weeks, with the greatest eagerness and delight. Whilst I thus from time to time felt a desire to fill up brother Ball’s place, and whilst I thus greatly delighted in the study of Hebrew, I called, in the evening of November 17, on Dr. Tholuck. In the course of conversation he asked me whether I had ever had a desire to be a missionary to the Jews, as I might be connected with the London Missionary Society for promoting Christianity among them, for which he was an agent. I was struck with the question, and told him what had passed in my mind, but added that it was not proper to think anything about that, as I was going to Bucharest; to which he agreed.
When I came home, however, these few words were like fire within me. The next morning I felt all desire for going to Bucharest gone, which appeared to me very wrong and fleshly, and I therefore entreated the Lord to restore to me the former desire for labouring on that missionary station. He graciously did so almost immediately. My earnestness in studying Hebrew, and my peculiar love for it, however, continued.
About ten days after, Dr. Tholuck received a letter from the Continental. Society, stating, that on account of the war between the Turks and Russians, it appeared well to the committee for the time being to give up the thought of sending a minister to Bucharest, as it was the seat of war between the two armies. Dr. Tholuck then asked me again what I now thought about being a missionary to the Jews. My reply was that I could not then give an answer, but that I would let him know, after I had prayerfully considered the matter. After prayer and consideration, and consulting with experienced brethren, in order that they might probe my heart as to my motives, I came to this conclusion, that I ought to offer myself to the committee, leaving it with the Lord to do with me afterwards as it might seem good in his sight. Accordingly, Dr. Tholuck wrote, about the beginning of December, 1827, to the committee in London.
It was not before March, 1828, that he received an answer from London respecting me, in which the committee put a number of questions to me, on the satisfactory answers to which my being received by them would depend. After replying to this first communication, I waited daily for an answer, and was so much the more desirous of having it, as my course in the university was completed. At last, on June 13, I received a letter from London, stating that the committee had determined to take me as a missionary student for six months on probation, provided that I would come to London.
I had now had the matter before me about seven months, having supposed not only that it would have been settled in a few weeks, but also, that, if I were accepted, I should be sent out immediately, as I had passed the university. Instead of this, not only seven months passed over before the decision came, but I was also expected to come to London; and not only so, but though I had from my infancy been more or less studying, and now at last wished actively to be engaged, it was required that I should again become a student. For a few moments, therefore, I was greatly disappointed and tried. But on calmly considering the matter, it appeared to me but right that the committee should know me personally, and that it was also well for me to know them more intimately than merely by correspondence, as this afterwards would make our connection much more comfortable. I determined, therefore, after I had seen my father, and found no difficulty on his part, to go to London.
There was, however, an obstacle in the way of my leaving the country. Every Prussian male subject is under the necessity of being for three years a soldier, provided his state of body allows it; but those who have had a classical education up to a certain degree, and especially those who have passed the university, need to be only one year in the army, but have to equip and maintain themselves during that year. I could not obtain a passport out of the country till I had either served my time or had been exempted by the king himself. The latter I hoped would be the case; for it was a well-known fact that those who had given themselves to missionary service had always been exempted. Certain brethren of influence, living in the capital, to whom I wrote on the subject, wrote to the king; but he replied that the matter must be referred to the ministry and to the law, and no exception was made in my favour.
My chief concern now was how I might obtain a passport for England, through exemption from military duty. But the more certain brethren tried, though they knew how to set about the matter, and were also persons of rank, the greater difficulty there appeared to be in obtaining my object; so that in the middle of January, 1829, it seemed as if I must immediately become a soldier. There was now but one more way untried, and it was at last resorted to. A believing major, who was on good terms with one of the chief generals, proposed that I should actually offer myself for entering the army, and that then I should be examined as to my bodily qualifications, in the hope that, as I was still in a very weak state of body, I should be found unfit for military service. In that case it would belong to the chief general finally to settle the matter; who, being a godly man himself, on the major’s recommendation, would, no doubt, hasten the decision, on account of my desire to be a missionary to the Jews.
Thus far the Lord had allowed things to go, to show me, it appears, that all my friends could not procure me a passport till his time was come. But now it was come. The King of kings had intended that I should go to England, because he would bless me there and make me a blessing, though I was at that time, and am still, most unworthy of it; and, therefore, though the king of Prussia had not been pleased to make an exemption in my favour, yet now all was made plain, and that at a time when hope had almost been given up, and when the last means had been resorted to. I was examined, and was declared to be unfit for military service. With a medical certificate to this effect, and a letter of recommendation from the major, I went to this chief general, who received me very kindly, and who himself wrote instantaneously to a second military physician, likewise to examine me at once. This was done, and it was by him confirmed that I was unfit. Now, the chief general himself, as his adjutants happened to be absent, in order to hasten the matter, wrote, with his own hands, the papers which were needed, and I got a complete dismissal, and that for life, from all military engagements.
On February 5 I arrived at my father’s house; it was the place where I had lived as a boy, and the scene of many of my sins, my father having now returned to it after his retirement from office. There were but three persons in the whole town with whom my soul had any fellowship. One of them was earning his daily bread by thrashing corn. As a boy I had in my heart laughed at him. Now I sought him out, having been informed that he was a brother, to acknowledge him as such, by having fellowship with him, and attending a meeting in his house on the Lord’s-day evening. My soul was refreshed, and his also. Such a spiritual feast as meeting with a brother was a rare thing to him.
I left my father’s house on February 10, and about February 22 arrived at Rotterdam. My going to England by the way of Rotterdam was not the usual way; but, consulting with a brother in Berlin, who had been twice in England, I was told that this was the cheapest route. My asking this brother, to be profited by his experience, would have been quite right, had I, besides this, like Ezra, sought of the Lord the right way. But I sought unto men only, and not at all unto the Lord, in this matter. When I came to Rotterdam, I found that no vessels went at that time from that port to London, on account of the ice having just broken up in the river. Thus I had to wait nearly a month at Rotterdam, and needed much more time than I should have required to go by way of Hamburg, and also much more money.
On March 19, 1829, I landed in London. Soon after my arrival, I heard one of the brethren speak of Mr. Groves, a dentist, who, for the Lord’s sake, had given up his profession, which brought him in at least £1,500 a year, and who intended to go as a missionary to Persia, with his wife and children, simply trusting in the Lord for temporal supplies. This made such an impression on me, and delighted me so, that I not only marked it down in my journal, but also wrote about it to my German friends.
I came to England weak in body, and, in consequence of much study, as I suppose, I was taken ill on May 15, and was soon, at least in my own estimation, apparently beyond recovery. The weaker I became in body, the happier I was in spirit. Never in my whole life had I seen myself so vile, so guilty, so altogether what I ought not to have been, as at this time. It was as if every sin of which I had been guilty was brought to my remembrance; but at the same time I could realize that all my sins were completely forgiven,—that I was washed and made clean, completely clean, in the blood of Jesus. The result of this was great peace. I longed exceedingly to depart and be with Christ. When my medical attendant came to see me, my prayer was something like this: “Lord, thou knowest that he does not know what is for my real welfare, therefore do thou direct him.” When I took my medicine, my hearty prayer each time was something like this: “Lord, thou knowest that this medicine is in itself nothing, no more than as if I were to take a little water. Now please, O Lord, to let it produce the effect which is for my real welfare, and for thy glory. Let me either be taken soon to thyself, or let me be soon restored; let me be ill for a longer time, and then taken to thyself, or let me be ill for a longer time, and then restored. O Lord, do with me as seem thee best!”
After I had been ill about a fortnight, my medical attendant unexpectedly pronounced me better. As I recovered but slowly, my friends entreated me to go into the country for change of air. I thought that it might be the will of God that I should do so, and I prayed therefore thus to the Lord: “Lord, I will gladly submit myself to thy will, and go, if thou wilt have me to go. And now let me know thy will by the answer of my medical attendant. If, in reply to my question, he says it would be very good for me, I will go; but if he, says it is of no great importance, then I will stay.” When I asked him, he said that it was the best thing I could do. I was then enabled willingly to submit, and accordingly went to Teignmouth.
A few days after my arrival at Teignmouth, the chapel, called Ebenezer, was reopened, and I attended the opening. I was much impressed by one of those who preached on the occasion. For though I did not like all he said, yet I saw a gravity and solemnity in him different from the rest. After he had preached, I had a great desire to know more of him; and, being invited by two brethren of Exmouth, in whose house he was staying, to spend some time with them, I had an opportunity of living ten days with him under the same roof. It was at this time that God began to show me that his word alone is our standard of judgment in spiritual things; that it can be explained only by the Holy Spirit; and that in our day, as well as in former times, he is the teacher of his people. The office of the Holy Spirit I had not experimentally understood before that time. Indeed, of the office of each of the blessed persons, in what is commonly called the Trinity, I had no experimental apprehension. I had not before seen from the Scriptures that the Father chose us before the foundation of the world; that in him that wonderful plan of our redemption originated, and that he also appointed all the means by which it was to be brought about. Further, that the Son, to save us, had fulfilled the law, to satisfy its demands, and with it also the holiness of God; that he had borne the punishment due to our sins, and had thus satisfied the justice of God. And, further, that the Holy Spirit alone can teach us about our state by nature, show us the need of a Saviour, enable us to believe in Christ, explain to us the Scriptures, help us in preaching, etc. It was my beginning to understand this latter point in particular which had a great effect on me; for the Lord enabled me to put it to the test of experience, by laying aside commentaries, and almost every other book, and simply reading the word of God and studying it. The result of this was, that the first evening that I shut myself into my room, to give myself to prayer and meditation over the Scriptures, I learned more in a few hours than I had done during a period of several months previously. But the particular difference was, that I received real strength for my soul in doing so. I now began to try by the test of the Scriptures the things which I had learned and seen, and found that only those principles which stood the test were really of value.
My stay in Devonshire was most profitable to my soul. My prayer had been, before I left London, that the Lord would be pleased to bless my journey to the benefit of my body and soul. In the beginning of September I returned to London, much better in body; and as to my soul, the change was so great that it was like a second conversion. After my return to London, I sought to benefit my brethren in the seminary, and the means which I used were these: I proposed to them to meet together every morning from six to eight for prayer and reading the Scriptures; and that then each of us should give out what he might consider the Lord had shown him to be the meaning of the portion read. One brother in particular was brought into the same state as myself; and others, I trust, were more or less benefited. Several times, when I went to my room after family prayer in the evening, I found communion with God so sweet that I continued in prayer till after twelve, and then, being full of joy, went into the room of the brother just referred to; and finding him also in a similar frame of heart, we continued praying until one or two; and even then I was a few times so full of joy that I could scarcely sleep, and at six in the morning again called the brethren together for prayer.
After I had been for about ten days in London, and had been confined to the house on account of my studies, my health began again to decline; and I saw that it would not be well, my poor body being only like a wreck or brand brought out of the devil’s service, to spend my little remaining strength in study, but that I now ought to set about actual engagement in the Lord’s work. I wrote to the committee of the Society, requesting them to send me out at once; and, that they might do so more comfortably, to send me as a fellow-labourer with an experienced brother. However, I received no answer.
After having waited about five or six weeks, in the mean time seeking, in one way or other, to labour for the Lord, it struck me that, considering myself called by the Lord to preach the gospel, I ought to begin at once to labour among the Jews in London, whether I had the title of missionary or not. In consequence of this, I distributed tracts among the Jews, with my name and residence written on them, thus inviting them to conversation about the things of God; preached to them in those places where they most numerously collect together; read the Scriptures regularly with about fifty Jewish boys; and became a teacher in a Sunday school. In this work I had much enjoyment, and the honour of being reproached and ill-treated for the name of Jesus. But the Lord gave me grace, never to be kept from the work by any danger, or the prospect of any suffering.
Mr. Müller was led, toward the close of 1829, to doubt the propriety of continuing under the patronage of the London Society. It seemed to him unscriptural for a servant of Christ to put himself under the control and direction of any one but the Lord. A correspondence with the Society, evincing on his part, and on their part, entire kindness and love, resulted in a dissolution of his relation to them. He was left free to preach the gospel wherever Providence might open the way.
On December 30, I went to Exmouth, where I intended to spend a fortnight in the house of some Christian friends. I arrived at Exmouth on December 31, at six in the evening, an hour before the commencement of a prayer-meeting at Ebenezer Chapel. My heart was burning with a desire to tell of the Lord’s goodness to my soul. Being, however, not called on, either to speak or pray, I was silent. The next morning, I spoke on the difference between being a Christian and a happy Christian, and showed whence it generally comes that we rejoice so little in the Lord. This, my first testimony, was blessed to many believers, that God, as it appears, might show me that he was with me. At the request of several believers, I spoke again in the afternoon, and also proposed a meeting in the chapel every morning at ten, to expound the epistle to the Romans. The second day after my arrival, a brother said to me, “I have been praying for this month past that the Lord would do something for Lympstone, a large parish where there is little spiritual light. There is a Wesleyan chapel, and I doubt not you would be allowed to preach there.” Being ready to speak of Jesus wherever the Lord might open a door, yet so that I could be faithful to the truths which he had been pleased to teach me, I went, and easily obtained liberty to preach twice on the next day, being the Lord’s day.
Then I proclaimed a fast, to seek of God a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance.—Ezra 8 v 21.
To avoid the necessity of reducing the sums named to federal money, it may be stated that a pound (£.) is equal to about $4.88, a sovereign to the same, a shilling (s.) to about 28 cts. and a penny (d.) to 2 cts. For convenience of computation, when exactness is not required, we may call the pound $5.00, and the shilling 25 cts.—Ed.