Friday, June 19, 2020

Was the Reform-Minded Novelist Charles Dickens Aware of George Mueller's Ministry with Orphans?


I recently posted a brief piece about the great 19th Century American preacher Dwight L. Moody which included his interaction with President-elect Abraham Lincoln and Moody’s visits to several battlefields of the Civil War.  As a historian, I’ve always found such parallel connections of great interest and that includes the connections that one would think would appear in the historic record but do not.  For instance, why the silence from Charles Dickens, the popular novelist who wrote so movingly about the need for social reform, about the wonderful and well-known work with orphan children by his contemporary George Mueller?

Actually, it turns out that Dickens wasn’t so silent after all.

There has long floated around a story that Charles Dickens believed a report that the orphans in Mueller’s care were being mistreated. So he decided to investigate but ended up being well satisfied, even profoundly impressed with what he found.  One version of the tale is that Mueller tossed Dickens the key to every door in the place and told him to go look for himself.  It’s a great story but I must admit that I’ve never found any real documentation for it.

However, there is quite compelling evidence from another source that does prove that Dickens was well informed of Mueller’s orphanage ministry…and that it won from him deep respect and appreciation.

Here it is.

In addition to Dickens’ popular novels, he took his turns as a journalist as well, most notably in his publishing an influential magazine primarily dedicated to social reform.  It was called Household Words.  And in Volume 16 of that journal (published in November 1857), there appeared a lengthy article entitled “Brother Mueller and His Orphan-Work” written by Henry Morley.  Now Morley was not only a close friend of Charles Dickens, he was a key colleague in Dickens’ work to make English institutions (prisons, schools, orphanages,) more humane and effective.  Morley was an acclaimed academic – lecturing in language and literature at King’s College (London), publishing many books (including the 10-volume English Writers, and writing for many leading publications.  And among those publications was Household Words.  In fact, Morley wrote over 300 stories for the magazine – more than any other person, including Dickens himself.

One can easily see then how Morley’s detailed piece on George Mueller would not only underscore that Dickens’ knowledge of Mueller’s work but the article’s praiseworthy tone reveals Dickens’ obvious approval of what Mueller was accomplishing.  To see just how much I cite below a few of the article’s relevant passages:

George Müller takes thought of the orphan, and has accomplished in his own way a substantial work that must secure for him the respect of all good men, whatever may be the form of their religious faith....

George Müller, believing himself to be elect, is one of those who thank the Lord that they are not as other men are; it grieves him to think that in the other world he shall be parted from his natural father and his brother, who are not among the chosen. He does not believe in any gradual amelioration of the world, but looks for the return of the Lord to reign on earth, and is not without expectation that the return may be in his own day.

He points to the Orphan-house on Ashley Down, near Bristol, for the justification of his faith. He has now been labouring in Bristol for a quarter of a century. He has undertaken large works of benevolence. He has established that asylum for destitute orphans, which for some time maintained three hundred inmates, and to which a new wing has just been added for the reception of four hundred more. He expects to add another wing and find room for a thousand. For the prosecution of this orphan-work, as he calls it, he has received ninety thousand pounds, without once asking for a penny. When he wants money he prays for it, and in his annual reports, which are summed up in the publication we have named, shows how it comes. His reports make no appeal. The spirit and intention of them is to bear testimony to the truth of which he is convinced, that “the Lord will provide…” 

So much we have said, at once to secure respect for Brother Müller, and to separate him from self-seeking men, who trade upon religion. A precarious subsistence – one obtained by living upon prayer – is a safe one in his eyes, but it is accompanied by him with the most energetic labour to do good work in the world. It will be seen, too, as we tell the main facts of his story, that whatever error we find in his theology, his view of a Scriptural life tallies with some of the best precepts of worldly wisdom… 

He rejected altogether the help of unbelievers in the conduct of his institution; but if they gave him money for it freely and unasked, he was not, by Acts, twenty-eighth chapter, second to tenth verses, warranted in refusing to accept their contributions. He rejected as unscriptural the practice of contracting debts, and then asking the charitable to assist in paying them. He based all hope of success on prayer…

So you see that even without “the keys” story, the evidence is in that George Mueller’s light was seen and valued by the reform-minded novelist Charles Dickens. That's important, in part, because Dickens' general view of the Church in his time was that it was as large a part of the problem as it was a part of the solution. Therefore, this sterling example of an evangelical ministry performing Christian love in action boldly, selflessly, and effectively was a corrective testimony of great relevance.

Of course, it's also great example to Christians of any era, reminding us of the importance to perform good deeds in the power of the Holy Spirit, to live out Jesus' commands regarding kindness and truth, and to winsomely share the good news about the heavenly hope that is in us through the sacrifice of Christ in our behalf.

“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16, New American Standard Bible)

Monday, June 15, 2020

A Few D.L. Moody Items

Here's a few things you may not have known about the great 19th Century preacher, D.L. Moody.

* Dwight Lyman Moody began his Sunday School in 1858, inviting children from the Chicago slums to participate.  The first meetings took place on the shores of Lake Michigan where the kids sat on rocks and driftwood as they heard gospel lessons. They were then able to set up the Sunday School in an abandoned freight car before finally obtaining a vacant saloon building on Michigan Street.  Moody was, by the way, a lay minister at the time selling shoes to make a living.

* To draw the unchurched kids to the Sunday services, Moody used prizes, free pony rides, picnics, and a genuine heart for children. In so doing, he quickly built a “congregation” of more than a thousand. The success of Moody’s Sunday School eventually persuaded a former mayor to allow him the free use of a large hall over North Market.  It meant that Moody had to do the recruiting for help, supervise the meetings, meet with parents and community businessmen, and do the janitor work of cleaning the hall after the Saturday night dances in order to have things clean and ready for Sunday School.

* Moody went full-time in Christian ministry in 1860 when he was 23.  And in addition to the Sunday School, he began relief ministries to serve the poor and needy.  The photo at the left shows Moody and a few of the street kids at the North Market hall in 1860.

* Also in 1860, the Sunday School which was fast becoming well-known in Chicago and beyond, was visited by President-elect Abraham Lincoln. Indeed, he made a special detour on his way to his inauguration in Washington, D.C. in order to see for himself this inspirational ministry.  While there, the magnanimous Lincoln blessed the kids with a few extemporaneous remarks.

* In 1862, Dwight Moody married Charlotte Revell.  He was 25; she was 19.  They would eventually have 3 children.  Within that first year of marriage, Moody would raise $20,000 to build Illinois Street Church with a capacity for 1,500.  It was the beginning of what was to become one of the most influential churches in history – Moody Church – which continues its ministry today.  Moody placed a sign at the entrance to that church that in itself became an important challenge to other churches: “Ever Welcome to this House of God Are Strangers and the Poor.”

* D.L. Moody’s ministry of pastoring, preaching, and relief work would make him a well-traveled and well-known preacher, yet he continued to serve Christ as an evangelist and counselor.  Indeed, this service included his visiting several battlefields of the Civil War where he ministered to the soldiers.

A few of D.L. Moody's proverbs:

“If I take care of my character, my reputation will take care of itself.”

“Out of 100 men, one will read the Bible, the other 99 will read the Christian.”

“Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at something that doesn't really matter.”

“The Bible will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from the Bible.”

“I have had more trouble with myself than with any other man I have ever met.”

“God never made a promise that was too good to be true.”

“No one can sum up all God is able to accomplish through one solitary life, wholly yielded, adjusted, and obedient to Him.”

“What we need as Christians is to be able to feed ourselves. How many there are who sit helpless and listless, with open mouths, hungry for spiritual things, and the minister has to try to feed them, while the Bible is a feast prepared, into which they never venture.”

Monday, June 08, 2020

Stuart Cunliffe's Everlasting "Is a Terrific Read"

“Stuart Cunliffe’s Everlasting: God’s Faithfulness to Israel is a remarkable book, packing into 90 pages more enlightenment and challenge than one could imagine.  And along with the relevant information, Cunliffe imparts wise counsel with striking illustrations and applications.

It is really an excellent book covering the early Church’s complicity in anti-Semitism, the heresy of ‘replacement’ theology, the great and unique love God has Israel, the divine plan for both Israel and the Church, and the exciting unfolding of the prophetic Scriptures.

I have already ordered extra copies of Everlasting of friends.

A really terrific read.”

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Summing Up the Hobbit Brunch

Although last Saturday's "Hobbit Brunch" didn't draw the numbers we had initially hoped, the 11 of us who did show up for the 1/2 hour Peter Kreeft video, the food and drink, the sparkling conversation, and the long-distance contributions of a couple of good friends (Dr. Gardner from Birmingham, England and and Dr. Tim Sullivan from Indianapolis, Indiana) made for a really terrific morning.

It was a deeply challenging yet deeply encouraging time as we discussed the power of friendship, the confidence Christ bestows on willing warriors, the keen edge of spirituality that is honed through suffering and purposeful adventure, how the triumph of heaven affects our lives now, the power of art, and more. Wonderful.

Thanks to all who participated: John & Barb, Karla, Quint & Carol; Keith & Carol, Greg, and Tim.

Plans for our next next Saturday brunch discussion are already underway. Will it involve C.S. Lewis? Malcom Muggeridge? Francis Schaeffer? Or yet someone else? Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Coming Up Soon -- A Hobbit Happening!


An important reminder to those who love literature, adventure, spiritual inspiration, hope, quality fellowship...and breakfast!

Because of the "Great Hunkering Down" of recent weeks, the special Hobbit Brunch we had planned for our home on Saturday morning, March 28th was postponed until the powers that be would allow social gatherings again. We thought for awhile that we might try a Zoom version of that meeting but then decided it would be better to reschedule an in-person party and let it be a celebration of not only Professor Tolkien's superb tales of Middle Earth but also of the end of these restraining quarantines.

So here's the deal. On Saturday morning, May 30th at 10 o'clock at our home in northwest Omaha we will be serving up delicious breakfast items (fresh from The Shire), coffee and tea (no nut-brown ale at this time of day), and an intriguing 30-minute video from Dr. Peter Kreeft which explores the religious values inherent in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

It's going to be a fun, festive, and I dare say inspirational morning. If you're interested in attending, please let us know.

Saturday, May 09, 2020

C.S. Lewis: Enlightening Reading for These "Quarantine Days"

This past week my reading has taken me back once again to C.S. Lewis’ “space trilogy” and I've found it to be the most ironic, uncanny literature for these dark days of government-imposed quarantines -- quarantines which have shut down much of our public life, ruined our economy, drastically limited our heretofore superb medical care, and pompously eliminated many of our First Amendment freedoms.

Now, I have in many previous readings over the years found these three titles quite moving and spiritually profound: Out of the Silent Planet (1938), Perelandra (1943), and That Hideous Strength (1945). But, as I said, reading them in the midst of this “Great Hunkering Down” has made for exceptional understanding and application.

I recommend them all highly.

However, if you have only time (or inclination) to read one, especially if you desire to get a clearer perspective on how the elites of government, science, and media seek to control the lives of individuals, I suggest That Hideous Strength.

And, for a teaser, I give you a portion of Lewis’ preface to that novel. (You’ll note here an interesting reference to The Lord of the Rings which had not yet been published.)

I have called this a “fairy tale” in the hope that no one who dislikes fantasy may be misled first two chapters into reading further, and then complain of his disappointment. If you ask why—intending to write about magicians, devils, pantomime animals, and planetary angels, I nevertheless begin with such humdrum scenes and persons—reply that I am following the traditional fairy-tale. We do not always notice its method because the cottages, castles, woodcutters, and petty kings with which a fairy-tale opens have become to us as remote as the witches and ogres to which it proceeds. But they were not remote at all to the men who made and first enjoyed the stories. They were indeed more realistic or common place than Bracton College is to me: for many German peasants had actually met cruel stepmothers, whereas I have never, in any university, come across a college like Bracton.

This is a “tall story” about devilry, though it has behind it a serious ‘point’ which I have tried to make in my “Abolition of Man.” In the story the outer rim of that devilry had to be shown touching the life of some ordinary and respectable profession. I selected my own profession, not, of course, because I think Fellows of Colleges more likely to be thus corrupted than anyone else, but because my own profession I know well enough to write about. A very small university is imagined because that has certain conveniences for fiction. Edgestow has no resemblance, save for its smallness, to Durham—a university with which the only connection I have ever had was entirely pleasant…

Those who would like to learn further about Numinor and the True West must (alas!) await the publication of much that still exists only in the MSS. of my friend, Professor J. R. R. Tolkien. The period of this story is vaguely “after the war.” It concludes the trilogy of which Out of the Silent Planet was the first part, and Perelandra the second, but can be read on its own.

(C.S. Lewis, Madgalen College, Oxford, Christmas Eve, 1943.)

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Quarantine Prescription: Take Two Books & Read Them Until Morning

There's been a lot of reading going on around here since my last catch up post -- even more than usual. The reason, of course, is the "Great Hunkering Down" has forced us all in these last 6 weeks to curtail activities that might otherwise require our attention.

And reading is always a preferable experience to television binges, computer solitaire, or yet another nap after a heavy snack.

In the mix these weeks have been a lot of adventure reads that I obtained for free on Kindle's Prime Reading list or through the Omaha Public Library's Overdrive program. Pretty nifty opportunities. Among those were The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides;  The Guns of Navarone and Force 10 From Navarone by Alistair MacLean; Solo by Jack Higgins; The Kill List by Frederick Forsyth; Post Captain by Patrick O'Brian; and a dozen or so from more recent novelists whose names I had never heard of...and whose names I need never remember! Indeed, the only books among the above that I found of genuine quality were the MacLean novels -- both rereads, by the way, from maybe 3 decades ago.

That brings me to the really good stuff, the books I found excellent and fully deserving of my recommendation. They were True Spirituality by Francis Schaeffer; Jesus On Trial by David Limbaugh; The King's General by Daphne du Maurier; and the next two in my journey through Jan Karon's delightful and inspiring Mitford series, Home to Holly Springs and In the Company of Others.

Read on!

Friday, March 06, 2020

A Great Start to 2020 Reading

Though our Vital Signs Ministries schedule is more packed than ever, I have had an exceptional start to my reading year. The reasons for this are as follows: 1) my ever-deepening resolve to keep my "screen time" to a bare minimum -- both television and computer screen; 2) our efforts to create an even more comfortable, conducive atmosphere for reading, particularly, converting our fireplace to gas (instant ambience and completely effortless and clean) and bring our phonograph into the living room so that "easy listening" music provides a relaxing background; and 3) praying that the Lord helps me to "number my days" and "redeem the time" concerning my reading hours as in all other matters of life.

This last point doesn't mean, by the way, that I only read the Bible or study theology; nor does it mean reading for pleasure (entertainment) is a waste. No, it simply means that I'm working on the right balance between genres of literature, purposes, and eras that best fits my ministry responsibilities, personal interests, and season of life.

And so, I'm pleased to repeat that these first couple of months of 2020 has seen an "exceptional start to my reading year."

Looking through the list, I see that there have been 21 books read thus far and two books that I'm currently in the process of reading. Those two are True Spirituality by Francis Schaeffer (a re-read) and Joy Born at Bethlehem: 19 Christmas Sermons by Charles Spurgeon. I'm reading these two carefully and a bit at a time in order to more fully understand and apply their lessons. Both will certainly make my 4 Star recommendation list.

But what of the others? Remarkably, more than half the titles earned that 4 Star rating. Some of them were re-reads (as I've mentioned often before, most of my re-reading involves books I've already once, twice, or more) and some were new to me. The 4 Star re-reads? 5 were novels -- Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens; The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy; and the classic 4 by JRR Tolkien (The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King). Two more of the 4 Star novels were my first readings -- Wake of the Perdido Star by Gene Hackman & Daniel Lenihan (a sea swashbuckler of sorts, very entertaining) and a Pulitzer Prize winner from early in the 20th Century, Alice Adams by a fellow who has become one of my favorite authors, Booth Tarkington.

The remaining 4 Star books of so far in 2020 have been Christmas Sermons by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and two excellent histories, Grant Moves South by acclaimed Civil War historian Bruce Catton and a study of Dwight Eisenhower by Fox television broadcaster Bret Baier entitled Three Days in January. 

The rest of the list included two very old mysteries by Louis Tracy which I downloaded on my Kindle for free (The Unknown Wife and A Mysterious Disappearance); two mysteries from the superb Dorothy Sayers (The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club and Have His Carcase); and four others from the "golden age" of the mystery novel (On Christmas Day in the Morning by Margery Allingham, Thou Shell of Death by Nicholas Blake, There Came Both Mist and Snow by Michael Innes, and The Siamese Twins Mystery by Ellery Queen.

The last two books were not very good. One was a WW II history Iron Spy by Ethan Quinn and the other was Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs. That last book I had never read (not even in my boyhood) and I was almost astonished at how bad it was. I mean, an adventure novel that is, at the same time, wildly unbelievable and still boring?

Anyhow, that's it for the latest catch-up post for The Book Den. Feel free to send along your reading lists as well. I'd love to get your reactions to what you're reading and perhaps find a few gems I might otherwise miss.

Thursday, March 05, 2020

Being Alone in the Dark

“There need never be a fear of the impersonal, because the personal-infinite God is really there. 

This is not just a piece of theater. If we live in the light of the doctrine that we say we believe, this very basic form of fear dissolves away. This is what the Christian parent says to the little child who is afraid to be left alone when the mother goes out of the room. There is nothing complex about it. It is as simple and profound as God’s existence. The little child is afraid to be left alone in the dark with the impersonal situation, and we may stay there and comfort him, but eventually the Christian parent has to say ‘But you do not have to be afraid, because God is here.’ This is a profound truth, not just for children. Indeed, it is the glory of the Christian faith that the little things are profound and profound things are overwhelmingly simple. 

So when the mother teaches the little child that God is there with him, and as the child grows and comes to know for himself that there are good and sufficient reasons to know that God is there, this has meaning in a profound sense that will prove sufficient all his life -- through all his philosophical wanderings, as well as in the darkness of the night. On the basis of the existence of the biblical God, and who He is in the total structure of the Christian faith, it is not meaningless for the little child in the dark and it is not meaningless for the most diligent student in philosophy who has ever walked through the darkness of philosophical speculation.” (Francis Schaeffer, Chapter 11, True Spirituality)

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Ike's Anger Drawer

“As she (Eisenhower’s mother] ministered to his bleeding hands, she spoke softly to Ike about this very fact, telling him how mastering his temper was the task of growing up. Referring to a biblical passage, she said, ‘He that conquereth his own soul is greater than he who taketh a city.’ 

Half a century later, Ike recalled her advice, noting that it marked a change in his life. ‘Hating was a futile sort of thing, she said, because hating anyone or anything meant that there was little to be gained. The person who had incurred my displeasure probably didn’t care, possibly didn’t even know, and the only person injured was myself…I have always looked back on that conversation as one of the most valuable moments of my life.’

And indeed, in his life and career, although Ike could display a blistering temper on rare occasions, he became far better known for his calm strength under pressure. He developed a simple method for handling rage, an ‘anger drawer’ in his desk into which he dropped slips of paper with the names of people he was angry at. Once in the drawer, the grievance was banished from thought.” (Bret Baier, Chapter 1, Three Days in January)