In 1739 a retired English sea captain began to build a huge home. It was a foundling home and the first of its kind in England. Before this time there were no orphanages available for English children. There was a "Poor Law" which provided a reason against such homes. It argued that orphanages would encourage unmarried girls to have babies, and would provide places for people to leave children they would rather not take care of.
Thomas Coram was a big man. Red-cheeked and windblown, he looked somewhat like the image people have of Santa Claus. As a matter of fact, perhaps some people thought of him in precisely that way. He perceived the poor with his heart. He observed tiny children begging for bread. He caught them stealing apples so they would not starve, and saw them huddled together under bridges in the dead of night so that they would not freeze. He felt sorry for them and — he also felt sorry for England. What a waste of future manpower!
Manpower was England's mainstay and economy — it was her investment into tomorrow. Thomas Coram believed that with all his heart. He went into the homes of many rich friends and enlisted their help in pledging money for a home — a foundling home. He was successful and, with the financial backing he needed, purchased 56 acres of attractive land near Bloomsbury. He built the home — and he built big — a complex made up of a chapel, a hospital, a school and a housing complex. To keep the necessary money coming in fundraising concerts were given on the grounds. Handel, for example, performed the Messiah there a number of times for rich patrons.
Foundlings, (babies or children without parents), were admitted by the home two months after birth. Sent on to be wet-nursed in the country by paid foster-mothers, they were sent back to Bloomsbury at the age of four. Schooling began at this point, and apprenticeships, for useful English lives.
George Mueller was somewhat like Thomas Coram. He was born a century or so later and he was German, but he also had a great interest in orphans. However, the reason for his interest was perhaps a little different.
George Mueller was born in 1805. His father had a well-paying government job, and consequently, George received a very good education. Maybe because all things, (toys, clothes, food), were handed to him on a silver platter, he didn't appreciate them as he should. Before he was ten he was spending the allowance given to him carelessly, lying and stealing expertly. He caused his mother and father much grief. By the time he was fourteen, he was drinking and gambling, and he was drunk the night his mother died. By sixteen he had graduated to jail cells and his father bailed him out by paying his debts.
The epitome of a prodigal son, George had definitely not found the way home yet. But God had plans for this wayward child. And when you are God's elect, then sooner or later your eyes will see these plans. After his bout in jail George enrolled in a seminary, deciding to become a minister. But his lifestyle did not improve. His heart still belonged to the world and it showed every day. By God's chance, (providence), George attended a prayer meeting with a friend one evening and it was at this time that God opened his eyes. Suddenly he saw his life for what it was — one grimy situation after another — one selfish thought piled on top of the next — and, he repented. As the Holy Spirit continued to convict him of his sin and as he continued the prayer meetings, George Mueller was totally reborn. And his life changed.
Finishing his studies in 1830, George received a call to become a minister in Tiegnmouth, England. It was a very small congregation with only eighteen members. The salary he was to be paid came from the pews that were rented out in the church. In other words, people had to pay to sit in church and listen to God's Word. George Mueller's life had changed. Where before the desire for money had been in charge, the Holy Spirit had now taken over. George knew it would be wrong if people had to pay to enter God's house. He, therefore, placed a box at the church door and began a system whereby people could leave a freewill offering for support of the ministry. God blessed this action of faith and the money collected in the box for George's salary far exceeded what he would have received from rented pews.
George Mueller married a Christian girl — God blessed him in that she was a supportive helpmeet. Spending time each day in devotions, George was struck by a specific text that spoke to him deeply. It was in Psalm 68:5 and it read "a Father to the fatherless." He thought much on this text and came to the conclusion that God was the Father of orphans, and therefore, their Provider. If I pray and remind God of the needs of these poor children, thought George, He will most certainly provide. His heart was filled with earnest compassion and he was moved to rent a house. One month later 26 orphans filled the rooms to overflowing. In a little over a year the Muellers were in charge of three homes and the devoted parents of 96 children. Relying totally on the Lord to supply needs, it is wonderful to note that not once did God fail to feed a child in one of these homes during this first trial year.
More children came and more room was needed. A Christian architect offered his services free of charge and a building was erected. Almost 300 children made this place their home.
George Mueller's home was a home that had a foundation of faith and prayer; it was built on a total conviction that God would fill a need that would glorify His name. George Mueller's mainstay was daily Bible study and prayer. During his life God permitted this returned prodigal to build five large orphanages and to be the earthly father to more than 10,000 orphans.
George Mueller preached his last sermon when he was 94. He spoke on 2 Corinthians 5:1 — "Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands." Later that week George Mueller died and went to his eternal house. His faith had been made sight.
Thomas Coram's school at Bloomsbury has been referred to by historians, as they look back at it, as a successful experiment in practical humanitarianism. Taking abandoned children off the street was humane; it was kind; it made economic and political sense. These children were, after all, the future citizens of England. It is true that God did allow the foundling home at Bloomsbury — and perhaps He used it as a means to lead some of these children to Him. We can't really trace their lives, but we trust that God, in His mercy, might have done so. But in spite of the fact that God might have used this home, we see very clearly that it was erected most of all to glorify and do something for man.
The orphanages God permitted George Mueller to build stand in contrast to this. They were probably not as fancy as the Bloomsbury complex. Maybe the diet was a bit simpler and the clothes provided just a little more threadbare. But the children there were loved because they were created in God's image and they were taught of a heavenly Father's love for them. They were definitely raised as future citizens — but not of England but of heaven and this — this glorified God.
Can you identify with Mueller's reason?