The secret of George Müller’s happiness

Posted in Blog, Christianity, Devon, George Muller

When I was young we used to sing a quaint hymn which began, ‘With harps and with viols there stand a great throng in the presence of Jesus, and sing this new song …’ It had a catchy tune and I always enjoyed singing it – but it doesn’t fit today’s tastes. Its author, Arthur Tappan Pierson, was an American Presbyterian pastor and writer who preached over 13,000 sermons, wrote over fifty books and nearly 30 hymns and gave lectures as part of transatlantic preaching tours that made him famous in Scotland, England, and Korea.

Pierson was also a friend of George Müller, about whose Ilfracombe retreats I wrote in this magazine last month. Müller’s countenance, Pierson recorded, ‘might have been thought stern, but for the smile which so habitually lit up his eyes and played over his features that it left its impress on the lines of his face … Those who knew but little of him and saw him only in his serious moods might have thought him lacking in that peculiarly human quality, humour. But neither was he an ascetic nor devoid of that element of innocent appreciation of the ludicrous and that keen enjoyment of a good story which seem essential to a complete man. His habit was sobriety, but he relished a joke that was free of all taint of uncleanness and that had about it no sting for others.

‘To those whom he best knew and loved he showed his true self, in his playful moods – as when at Ilfracombe, climbing with his wife and others the heights that overlook the sea, he walked on a little in advance, seated himself till the rest came up with him, and then, when they were barely seated, rose and quietly said, “Well now, we have had a good rest, let us go on”.’

Many years earlier, in January 1827, while Müller was studying for a degree in theology at the University of Halle, he received a letter from a woman in Frankfurt who signed herself ‘An adoring worshipper of the Saviour, Jesus Christ’. Müller translated the letter into English and kept it for the rest of his long life. This is what the woman wrote: ‘Hold fast the faith which God has given you by His Holy Spirit; it is the most precious treasure in this life, and it contains in itself true happiness. Only seek by watching and prayer more and more to be delivered from all vanity and self-complacency, by which even the true believer may be ensnared when he least expects it. Let it be your chief aim to be more and more humble, faithful, and quiet. May we not belong to those who say and write continually, “Lord, Lord,” but who have Him not deeply in their hearts. Christianity consists not in words but in power. There must be life in us. For God loved us first that we might love Him in return; and that loving we might receive power to be faithful to Him, and to conquer ourselves, the world, distress and death. May His Spirit strengthen you for this, that you may be an able messenger of His gospel!’

During the sixty-six years that Müller worked as a Pastor and Director of five Children’s Homes in Bristol, and during his visits to Ilfracombe, he never forgot the Frankfurt woman’s letter. Quiet, selfless commitment to both the demands and rewards of Christian faith is not only a precious treasure but a recipe for happiness. Did the recipe work?

Well, judge for yourself, when you hear these words preached by Müller in Bristol, on the occasion of Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee in June 1897. He was then 92 years old and still preaching regularly! His text was ‘You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows’ (Psalm 23:5). Toward the end of his sermon he said, ‘If the heart were habitually given to these things, it would be full of joy! We should be exceedingly happy. And therefore my affectionate counsel and advice to my beloved fellow-believers is seek more and more to ponder all this, with application to your hearts, in order that your joy may increase more abundantly. And what will come of it at last? You will say with the Psalmist, “My cup overflows” – I am so happy a man I can scarcely bear it. I not only have something in my cup, and a good deal in my cup, and have my cup full, but my cup overflows!’

We would all do well to ponder the secret of happiness which kept George Müller going through a long and fruitful life.