Christian History Timeline: From orphans to martyrs

[George Müller in middle age]

1805 George Müller is born in Kroppenstaedt, Prussia.

1819 Müller’s mother dies. 

1821 At the age of only 16, Müller spends five weeks in prison for debt.

1825 Müller enrolls at Halle University to study theology; his friend Beta takes him to a Bible study after which he becomes a Christian. Anthony Norris Groves publishes Christian Devotedness.

1826 Müller decides to become a missionary. Refusing to accept his father’s money, at one point he lives for two months in free lodgings in an orphan house built by Augustus Francke. John Nelson Darby is ordained a priest in the Church of Ireland (Anglican) and obtains a parish. 

1827 Groves gives up on his plan to seek Anglican ordination and serve with the Church Missionary Society; he begins to meet with other believers to break bread and study the Scriptures. Darby suffers a riding accident and has a new assurance of faith during his recovery.

1829 Müller moves to London to train for missionary work. He becomes ill and goes to Teignmouth, Devon, for rest and meets Henry Craik. Invited to become minister of Ebenezer Chapel, he moves to Devon. Groves goes to Baghdad as a missionary; later he will move to India. 

1830 Müller marries Mary Groves. He renounces his regular salary and eliminates the renting of church pews at Ebenezer. 

1831 Theodosia Wingfield Powerscourt organizes a series of prophecy conferences at her estate in Enniskerry where Darby speaks. G. V. Wigram begins to hold prophecy conferences in Plymouth, England. 

1832 Müller moves to Bristol to serve with Craik as pastors of Gideon Chapel and Bethesda Chapel; George and Mary’s daughter Lydia is born. Benjamin Wills Newton and others begin meeting to break bread without denominational allegiance in Plymouth.

1834 George and Mary’s son, Elijah, is born, but lives only 15 months. Müller founds The Scriptural Knowledge Institution to support missionaries at home and abroad, provide a source of cheap Bibles and tracts, and support day schools and Sunday schools for adults and children.

1835 Müller feels led to start an orphanage because of a worsening cholera epidemic and the increasing number of orphaned children who are forced into the workhouse or the streets. 

1836 First Orphan Homes are opened on Wilson Street, Bristol. The first 30 female orphans live in the Müllers’ own home. Later another home is acquired for boys and girls under the age of seven. 

1837 Third Wilson Street home is opened to accommodate boys seven and up. By now there are 64 children.

1840 Craik and Müller focus solely on preaching at Bethesda Chapel; Müller will continue preaching and leading there until his death. 

There are now about 200 Brethren assemblies in Britain and Ireland operating as an informal network.

1845 Müller receives a letter of complaint from the neighbors about the noise caused by the orphans (now numbering about 130). 

1846 Müller buys land at Ashley Down. He does not allow building to begin until he has all of the money to complete the project.

1847 Building starts on Ashley Down. The architect commissioned to draw up the plans asks if he might do so free of charge.

1848 The Brethren split into “Open” and “Exclusive” groups over the willingness of Bethesda Chapel to receive believers from Benjamin Newton’s assembly. Müller associates with the Open Brethren, and Darby with the Exclusive Brethren. The Exclusive group refuses to receive into fellowship in any of their assemblies anyone who has been disfellowshiped from another assembly.

1849 The first home at Ashley Down is opened, accommodating 300 children in dormitories. Each house has its own dining room and its own infirmary.

1851 Müller makes the decision to expand; there are 78 children on the waiting list. 

1852-53 Hudson Taylor is baptized in an Open Brethren assembly in Hull and begins to study medicine. 

1854 Work starts on the second orphan house at Ashley Down. Taylor arrives in China for the first time.

1857 Work on Orphan House Number 2 at Ashley Down is completed. 

1858 Work begins on Orphan House Number 3. 

1861 Müller decides to accommodate 2,000 orphaned children. He acquires more land for the building of two more houses.

1862 House Number 3 is completed, housing another 450 children. Capacity is now 1,150 children.

1865 Taylor publishes China’s Spiritual Need and Claims and founds the China Inland Mission.

1868 A further 450 orphans are accommodated in Orphan House Number 4, bringing the total number of orphans cared for at Ashley Down to 1,600. 

1870 House Number 5 is completed; Ashley Down can now house up to 2,050 children. Mary Müller dies; James Wright is appointed assistant and successor to George Müller.

1871 James Wright marries Lydia, the Müllers’ only surviving child. George Müller marries Susannah Grace Sanger.

1875 Müller begins 17 years of missionary travel at age 70. He will travel over 200,000 miles, address over 3 million people, and preach in 42 countries.

1890 Lydia (Müller) Wright dies. Darby publishes his new translation of the Bible.

1892 Amy Carmichael, influenced by both Müller and Taylor, offers herself for the China Inland Mission but is refused because of her health. She will briefly go to Japan with the Church Missionary Society.

1894 Susannah Müller dies.

1895 Carmichael goes to India.

1898 George Müller dies in Bristol.

1901 Carmichael begins work in Dohnavur.

1909 Cyrus Scofield publishes the Scofield Reference Bible, which popularizes Darby’s theology.

1913 Harold St. John becomes a Brethren missionary in Brazil.

1920 Watchman Nee becomes a Christian in China. Through his mentor, Margaret Barber, he is introduced to many Brethren authors.

1925 Carmichael begins to support her work on the faith mission principle.

1927 Carmichael’s Dohnavur Fellowship is registered. 

1930 Famous evangelist Harry Ironside becomes pastor of Moody Church in Chicago; he retains fellowship with the Brethren despite their teaching that “pastor” is not a necessary office for Christians.

1931 Carmichael, seriously injured, begins a ministry of writing.

1943 Brethren scholar F. F. Bruce publishes the popular and influential book Are the New Testament Documents Reliable?

1950 Missionary nurse and Brethren author Patricia St. John, daughter of Harold, publishes her best-known work, Treasures of the Snow.

1952 Brethren missionaries Jim and Elisabeth Elliot go to Ecuador. Chinese Communists arrrest Watchman Nee who will remain in prison until his death 20 years later.

1956 Jim Elliot is killed in Ecuador.

By the editors

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #128 in 2018]

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