George Müller Did Not Have the Gift of Faith — Thankfully

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George Müller (1805–1898) provided for thousands of orphans by means of the “faith principle” — which meant he would look to God and never directly ask another person for money. Nor did he ever borrow money — for anything. He was renowned for peaceful trust in God’s provision, even when a deadline loomed and food was short.

On this faith principle, he raised £110,000 to build five orphan houses that accommodated 2,050 orphans. In his lifetime he cared for 10,024 orphans. By his example, he inspired others to embrace orphan care, including Charles Spurgeon, who said, “The God who answers by orphanages, let him be Lord!”

It Was Not the Gift of Faith

Müller provided for thousands of orphans without ever asking for or borrowing money.

Nevertheless, Müller was adamant that he did not have the gift of faith. What did he mean, and why should we be thankful?

Think not, dear reader, that I have the gift of faith, that is, that gift of which we read in 1 Corinthians 12:9, and which is mentioned along with “the gifts of healing,” “the working of miracles,” “prophecy,” and that on that account I am able to trust in the Lord.

It is true that the faith, which I am enabled to exercise, is altogether God’s own gift; it is true that He alone supports it, and that He alone can increase it; it is true that, moment by moment, I depend upon Him for it, and that, if I were only one moment left to myself, my faith would utterly fail; but it is not true that my faith is that gift of faith which is spoken of in 1 Corinthians 12:9. (Narrative, Vol. 1, 302)

He emphasized this point because he meant for the world to see that God keeps the promises of Scripture for those who trust him. If he had a special gift of faith that God does not expect all to have, then one of Müller’s great aims would have been thwarted. He believed he was setting a biblical example for all of us:

All believers are called upon, in the simple confidence of faith, to cast all their burdens upon him, to trust in him for everything, and not only to make everything a subject of prayer, but to expect answers to their petitions which they have asked according to his will, and in the name of the Lord Jesus. (302)

The Difference Between Grace and Gift

What’s the difference between this amazing faith (which Müller called the “grace of faith”) and the “gift of faith” in 1 Corinthians 12:7–9, which says, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit”?

Here is Müller’s answer:

Müller demonstrated greater faith in God than most people in history, but he did not have the gift of faith.

The difference between the gift and the grace of faith seems to me this. According to the gift of faith, I am able to do a thing, or believe that a thing will come to pass, the not doing of which, or the not believing of which would not be sin; according to the grace of faith, I am able to do a thing, or believe that a thing will come to pass, respecting which I have the word of God as the ground to rest upon, and, therefore, the not doing it, or the not believing it would be sin.

For instance, the gift of faith would be needed to believe that a sick person should be restored again though there is no human probability, for there is no promise to that effect; the grace of faith is needed to believe that the Lord will give me the necessaries of life, if I first seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness, for there is a promise to that effect: Matthew 6:33. (Narrative, Vol. 1, 65)

This response is enormously important. It means every Christian is expected to trust God to fulfill all the explicit promises made to the church in the Bible. It would be sin not to believe them. But it is not sin not to believe God will do a thing that is not explicitly promised in the Bible — like heal his wife, Mary.

Prayed for Her Healing, Preached at Her Funeral

So how did he trust God as he prayed for his wife’s healing when he learned that she had rheumatic fever? Would he have the “gift of faith” for her? No, he would not. But he did have faith as he prayed — great faith. He took hold of a promise in the Bible and he believed it. Here is how he described that faith:

The last portion of Scripture which I read to my precious wife was this: “The Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory. No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly” [Psalm 84:11]. . . . I said to myself, with regard to the latter part, “no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.” I am in myself a poor, worthless sinner, but I have been saved by the blood of Christ. And I do not live in sin; I walk uprightly before God. Therefore, if it is really good for me, my darling wife will be raised up again, sick as she is. God will restore her again. But if she is not restored again, then it would not be a good thing for me. And so my heart was at rest. I was satisfied with God. And all this springs, as I have often said before, from taking God at his word, believing what he says. (Narrative, Vol. 2, 745)

She died February 6, 1870. Müller was 64. He never wavered in his faith. He preached at her funeral from Psalm 119:68: “Thou art good and doest good.” He recounted how he preached to himself as she was dying: “If God pleases to take my dearest wife, it will be good, like himself. What I have to do, as his child, is to be satisfied with what my Father does, that I may glorify him” (Narrative, Vol. 2, 399).

It is grace to trust God for the good he has promised; it is a gift to trust God for the good he has not promised — and may withhold.

This response means that Müller’s faith for the orphans was the same kind of faith as he had for his wife. If it is good that the orphans have eggs for breakfast, Müller’s prayer for eggs will be granted. But if not, Müller will assume his prayer has been answered in a way that is better than eggs. Eggs may fail. God never fails. For eggs have not been promised.

What has been promised in the Bible is “the necessaries of life.” “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things [food, drink, clothing] will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). God knows how much food, drink, and clothing are “necessary” for us — just like he knew what was “good” for Mary and for Müller himself. She died.

Whatever I Ask?

But, we ask, does not God promise in the Bible that everything we trust God for will be given? And wouldn’t that mean, on Müller’s understanding of the grace of faith, that it would be sin if we failed to trust God to give us everything we asked for? That is, in fact, how the “word of faith” (name it and claim it) healers understand Scripture. Müller did not see it that way.

But why not? In Mark 11:24 Jesus says, “Whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” So, yes, it’s true that there is no specific promise in the Bible that his wife Mary would be healed. But there is a promise that “whatever you ask” would be granted, if you believe. Isn’t Mary’s healing included in the “whatever”?

Müller would say no. He always said that the prayer we can believe God for must be “according to God’s will” — meaning God’s sovereign will — what he, in fact, wills to do. As it says in 1 John 5:14–15, “This is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.”

Notice that John says, “whatever we ask” (the same words Jesus uses in Mark 11:24), but he has already limited the asking to things that accord with God’s will. So the word “whatever” is not absolute. It’s limited by the context. Similarly, the context of Mark 11:24 limits the word “whatever” as Jesus used it.

“God meant for Müller’s life to be an example for us. It was. Lord, grant that this grace of faith would be our ever-growing portion.”

The very next verse (Mark 11:25) assumes that “whatever you ask” has limits. Jesus says, “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” Which clearly implies that you will not be granted answers to your prayer for forgiveness, if you are an unforgiving person (see also Matthew 6:14–15). “Whatever” does not include good things that God intends to withhold — like forgiveness from the unforgiving.

How would Müller define the “whatever” of Mark 11:24? I think he would say, “It means believe God implicitly and without doubting for whatever he has promised in his word.” This perspective alone is so radical as to make you utterly different from the world. You will not be anxious. You will not be bitter with disappointments. You will know that he will withhold from you no good thing as you walk uprightly (Psalm 84:11). He will always do what is good for you as you love him (Romans 8:28). He will always provide for every need you have (Philippians 4:19). Müller really believed these promises. God was pleased and answered.

He meant for Müller’s life to be an example for us. It was. Lord, grant that this grace of faith would be our ever-growing portion.