Tag Archives: Books published in the 1890s

Review: George Müller of Bristol and His Witness to a Prayer-Hearing God

Rating: ★★★★★

Author:

Arthur Tappan (A. T.) Pierson (1837-1911) was an American Presbyterian pastor and a prolific author of biography, theology, and especially missions. He succeeded Charles Spurgeon in the Metropolitan Tabernacle pulpit and was a key influencer in the Student Volunteer Movement.

Overview:

George Müller of Bristol and His Witness to a Prayer-Hearing God (1899) is one of the great classics of Christian biography. George Müller served Christ for more than sixty years, managing Bible schools and an orphanage, as well as being a prominent public supporter of overseas missions. He is most famous for his orphanage and his lack of soliciting funds. The BBC writes,

When Müller died at the age of 92 in 1898, the Daily Telegraph wrote that he had “robbed the cruel streets of thousands of victims and the workhouses of thousands of helpless waifs”.

The author, Arthur Pierson, was his son-in-law, and had a personal knowledge of Müller’s life. The book was published in the year after Müller died and, brief as it is, is the authoritative biography of George Müller. It also masterfully explains the principles by which Müller lived, Pierson himself being a famous preacher and teacher.

Müller was strongly influenced by Anthony Norris Groves, who went to Baghdad in 1829 under a banner of Christian primitivism—meaning, he chose to travel with salary or no institutional backing. George Müller married Mary Groves in October 1830, and thus, Anthony Norris Groves became his brother-in-law; around this time, Müller also renounced his salary, believing that God called his ministers to live without a fixed income. This is known among evangelicals as “living by faith”, though it is something of a misnomer—implying, as it does, that those with fixed incomes are not living by faith—and thus, I place it between quotation marks for lack of a better term. For historical context, it’s worth noting that Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission and popularizer of “faith” missions, was not yet born at the time! Groves and Müller were very early adopters of the principles of evangelical “faith” missions.

In 1831, the Memoirs of August Hermann Francke was published, Müller soon read it. Francke had been a seminal figure in the beginnings of Protestant missions in the late 1600s and early 1700s, and he also educated and supported thousands of poor children.

Reading the life of Francke was likely a watershed moment for Müller who became, according to Pierson, “in [many] respects [Francke’s] counterpart”. Both Francke and Müller were Germans; both supported and educated poor children; both lived and ministered for decades without a fixed income; both distributed over a million Bibles and New Testaments; both supported the work of pioneer missonaries.

In February, 1832, [George Müller] had begun to read the biography of A. H. Francke, the founder of the Orphan Houses of Halle [in Germany]. As that life and work were undoubtedly used of God to make him a like instrument in a kindred service, and to mould even the methods of his philanthropy, a brief sketch of Francke’s career may be helpful.

August H. Francke was Müller’s fellow countryman. About 1696, at Halle in Prussia, he had commenced the largest enterprise for poor children then existing in the world. He trusted in God, and He whom he trusted did not fail him, but helped him throughout abundantly.

The institutions, which resembled rather a large street than a building, were erected, and in them about two thousand orphan children were housed, fed, clad, and taught. For about thirty years all went on under Francke’s own eyes, until 1727, when it pleased the Master to call the servant up higher; and after his departure his like-minded son-in-law became the director. Two hundred years have passed, and these Orphan Houses are still in existence, serving their noble purpose.

In 1834, Müller began a school in Bristol for teaching children the Bible. In 1836, this work was expanded to include an orphanage. This orphanage was the work for which Müller became most well known; but, like Francke, he was involved in a vast variety of charitable and educational endeavors. As he is presented here, Müller led a profoundly impactful life of charity based on faith and biblical principles.

The chapter on “The Word of God and Prayer” is noteworthy and is worth reading by itself. I have no other work that so clearly states the importance and practicality of using scripture in prayer. According to Pierson, Müller’s prayers were steeped in the Word of God, and were grounded in God’s promises.

The author gives ample space to describing both the principles and outcome of Müller’s prayer life; throughout the book, he often departs from the narrative to describe the theological background in which the events took place. In my view, this book is a perfect blend of biography, theology, and devotion. It constitutes a transition point between nineteenth-century memoirs, which merely list dates and events, and modern reflections which merely meditate on their meaning without giving a full historical account.

Plymouth Brethren and “Faith” Missions

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is the description of Plymouth Brethren principles practiced by Müller, which are unfamiliar to many Americans. Several of my favorite theologians came out of the Plymouth Brethren, and they were a profound influence on Watchman Nee. As Pierson describes it, Plymouth Brethren doctrine involves an outright rejection of hierarchy in church organization. Thus, even group meetings do not have an appointed leader. “you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.” (1 Corinthians 14:31, NIV)

There are certain aspects of this book that have been exaggerated in the context of Christian fundraising. In certain circles, greatly influenced by lives like August Francke, Hudson Taylor, and George Müller, direct soliciting of funds is practically taboo, and ministers must be supported on a “faith” basis. In reality, Francke and Müller at least, had important believing patrons that had some awareness of the day-to-day needs of their institutions. Nonetheless, these lives are remarkable confirmations of Jesus’ words:

Food and clothing “dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.” (Matthew 6:32, NLT)

I highly recommend this book to anyone embarking on a faith venture without a fixed salary. I would not advocate any restrictive version of this wherein no one may make their needs known to believers who are willing and ready to help. That’s not a principle I see in the New Testament. In my opinion, it is similar to denying medicine because you believe in healing; medicine may also be a method of healing! For all that, I have personally tested Jesus’ principles and found that our heavenly Father does know all our needs, and he does provide for his people out of his abundant mercy.

Read: You can read this book for free at Project Gutenberg, in the Kindle Store, and you can listen to it on LibriVox.

Review: The Greater Life and Work of Christ

Rating: ★★★★★

Author: In addition to The Greater Life and Work of Christ, Alexander Patterson is the author of The Other Side of Evolution: Its Effect and Fallacy (1903), and Broader Bible Study.

Overview:

The Greater Life and Work of Christ (1896) is a novel take on a genre known well in Patterson’s day: “the life of Christ.” Many famous theologians published attempts at biographies of Jesus in the second half of the nineteenth century, most of them titled simply The Life of Christ. The focus of this genre was to present a kind of narrative gospel harmony, and sometimes a more introspective, speculative, or biographical look at how Jesus interacted with people and went about his day. Some popular and typical examples include that of Dawson (1874), F. W. Farrar (1875), James Stalker (1880), Joseph Parker’s Inner Life of Christ (1883), and Edersheim’s Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (1883). Some more modern examples include R. J. Campbell’s Life of Christ (1921) and Fulton Oursler’s The Greatest Story Ever Told (1948).

Patterson’s book differs significantly from all of the above. In the preface to his book, he states his theme:

It will be seen at a glance that this is not a life of Christ in the usual sense. It is not a review of the events of the earthly existence of our Lord. There is a greater life and a larger work of Christ of which his life on earth is but a single chapter. . . . The great defect in the study of Christ is to consider him in but a single chapter of his life and work.

Thus, literally, “Christ in His Earthly Life” is only one of Patterson’s seven chapters. The table of contents is worth a long look:

I. Christ in the Eternal Past
II. The Word: Christ in Creation
III. Jehovah: Christ in the Old Testament Age
IV. Jesus: Christ in His Earthly Life
V. Jesus Christ: Christ in His Present State and Work
VI. The King of Kings and Lord of Lords: Christ in the Day of the Lord
VII. Christ in the Eternal Future

Chapter IV has its source texts mainly in the Gospels; chapter VI and VII have their source texts mainly in the Revelation. The other chapters, though, are fascinating composites of thoughts drawn from a variety of Scriptures. When you read about “Christ in Creation” you will marvel at how many Scriptures speak of Jesus at Creation, and wonder why you have so seldom heard a sermon on such a worthy topic. I also enjoyed the meditations on “Christ in His Present State and Work”—the comfort of the intercession of Christ for us was a topic constantly on the lips of the Puritans, but it is a topic seldom explored at any length today.

Patterson is rather ahead of his time on some topics. He takes a bird’s-eye view of Scripture that is attractive for its thoroughness. The first three chapters are often in innovative territory as he draws together Scriptures in new ways. Interestingly, he was an early opponent of evolution, and there is one section of “post-colonial” thoughts that sounds like it was in yesterday’s Christiantiy Today, even though he lived at the height of the British Empire.

Because it follows a chronological scheme, this book may seem at first like dispensational theology, but that is really outside its goal. Rather, Patterson’s purpose is to present the unity in Christ’s work throughout history, over against its disparities.

Meat:

The very idea of this book is thrilling in itself, beginning in eternity past and ending in eternity future. There is such a variety of thoughts and Scriptures that it is difficult to choose only a few quotations.

One high point of the book is that Patterson takes an essentially missional view of the Church.

The church exists for a specific work—the proclamation in all the world of the gospel of the cross of Jesus Christ as declared by himself and his apostles. This we dare not neglect for any other mission, however good.

Along these lines, in Chapter VI, he usefully differentiates Christians from Christendom—meaning the historically-Christian or majority-Christian nations of Europe and the North America. His comments here were remarkably ahead of their time, written in the 1890s, and I felt it was worth sharing the whole section:

What will be the record of Christendom? It has laid hands on the fairest regions of the world “for their good” and ostensibly to “extend civilization,” really to extend national power and trade and to enrich the merchants of the dominant nations. It has taken, without compensation, from weaker nations their God-given heritage . . . The work of the missionary of the gospel has been taken advantage of, and has been followed by the trader, and he by the soldier. There has followed them the train of evils which have destroyed these peoples. Opium was forced into China by Christendom. Rum is being poured into Africa by Christendom.

Where the so-called Christian civilization has appeared, the native races have gone down by its drugs, drinks, and diseases. It has put into the hands of these races, arms and material of most diabolically consummate perfection for the destruction of human life. It calls the arming of these peoples with these infernal weapons “advancing in progress and civilization.” It lends them money for this purpose and sends them teachers who instruct them in the satanic art of wholesale butchery of human life, and sets them at war with each other, and profits by their mutual destruction.

There has been given the nations of whole continents, in place of their original paganism, a bastard Christianity more difficult to overthrow than their pagan faith. . . . The God of heaven and earth is not oblivious to the awful sins of Christendom.
(p. 273-274, 2017 ed.)

Bones:

This book is very long but very good. The only part where I felt very bogged down was the eschatology. A reader cannot help but think that many of the thoughts presented are speculative. That being said, I highly recommend that you finish the book if you can, because the conclusion masterfully synthesized all that preceded and fully compensated for the less exciting sections.

Read: You can read this book for free on the Internet Archive, or you can listen to it free on LibriVox.

James Gilmour of Mongolia review

Review: James Gilmour of Mongolia

Rating: ★★★★★

Who: James Gilmour, pioneer missionary in China and Mongolia.

Richard Lovett arranged these memoirs using Gilmour’s journals in the year after Gilmour’s death.

When: Gilmour was active in the mission field from 1870 until his death in China in 1891.

Where: Gilmour spends much of the book training and equipping in northern China before making various excursions into Mongolia.

Overview: A few pioneers had translated the Bible for the Buryat people (a Mongol people group) in Russia in the early 1800s with permission from the Russian Emperor, but they had been sent home after many years by the same. At the time Gilmour began work among them, the Mongols were an extensive and widespread people group with no church and no missionary.

Mongolia at the time was so wholly untouched by Western influence that Gilmour could say, after just a few years of excursions, that he knew more of Mongolia than any European he was aware of. This is the unromantic record of a very difficult missionary life on a pioneer field.

Meat: Gilmour’s writings here on the missionary call (quoted below) are very well known. He ate, slept, and travelled as a low-class Mongolian; he experienced bereavement on the mission field and nearly drowned in flash floods; but he wrote that all this was merely obedience to the Great Commission.

Gilmour deals pretty extensively with grief, depression, and disappointment on the mission field, and this is reflected much better in this firsthand account than in modern retellings. Lovett writes, “The most constant force acting in the direction of mental depression was what appeared to him like the want of immediate success.” (p. 225)

Bones: The original edition has some repetitive letters and journal entries that could easily be abridged. In spite of this, it is very inspiring to read his own words, rather than some romantic modern summary of his life.

Quotes: “I feel quite ready to go anywhere if only He goes with me.” (p. 177)

“Where is now the Lord God of Elijah? He is waiting for Elijah to call on Him.” (p. 59-60)

“I go out as a missionary not that I may follow the dictates of common sense, but that I may obey that command of Christ, ‘Go into all the world and preach.’ He who said ‘preach,’ said also, ‘Go ye into and preach’, and what Christ hath joined together let not man put asunder. This command seems to me to be strictly a missionary injunction, and, as far as I can see, those to whom it was first delivered regarded it in that light, so that, apart altogether from choice and other lower reasons, my going forth is a matter of obedience to a plain command; and in place of seeking to assign a reason for going abroad, I would prefer to say that I have failed to discover any reason why I should stay at home.” (p. 42-43)

On missionary depression:

“In the shape of converts I have seen no result. I have not, as far as I am aware, seen anyone who even wanted to be a Christian.” (p. 97)

“In terrible darkness and tears for two days. Light broke over me at my stand to-day in the thought that Jesus was tempted forty days of the devil after His baptism, and that He felt forsaken on the cross.” (May 9. 1888; p. 224-225)

“The only trouble that haunted him was that the results of his long journeys and of his various missionary enterprises had been apparently so few.”

Related: Among the Mongols, More about the Mongols.

This biography is available for free on Kindle, Project Gutenberg, and the Internet Archive.