This is the ninth in a series of posts I am doing on pivotal moments for the Gospel in South African history. If you would like to read the first in this series click here
Dr Kevin Roy says of Andrew Murray, “The impact of Andrew Murray’s ministry on the church in South Africa is probably unparalleled by any other single figure in its history.” Today the name of Andrew Murray is honoured in Reformed, Anglican, Methodist, Baptist , Pentecostal and Charismatic circles. He was a prolific writer with some 240 books and pamphlets published in Dutch, English and Afrikaans. Murray himself was Reformed and Presbyterian, however he was also greatly influenced by the Holiness, Revivalist and Evangelical movements of his time.
Murray served four congregations in his ministry, and founded a number of influential institutions. He was elected Moderator of his church six times. His influence extended far beyond his country of birth, South Africa.
In 1822, Andrew Murray senior came to the Cape colony, under the recommendation of George Thom. There he became the minister of the Dutch Reformed congregation at Graaff-Rienet, where he ministered for 45 years. He married Maria Stegmann, who was of Huguenot and Lutheran decent. Together they had 10 children. Andrew Murray junior and his older brother, John, were sent to Aberdeen in Scotland for their education. They lived there with their uncle, who was also a Presbyterian minister.
In their seven years in Aberdeen, the two young Murray boys witnessed the struggle within the Church of Scotland, between the Moderates and the Evangelicals over the issue of lay patronage. The Evangelicals stood firm for the principle that no pastor should be intruded upon any congregation contrary to the will of the people. The government on the other hand, supported the Moderates, upholding the right of a lay patron to appoint a minister to a congregation. The Evangelicals eventual lost this cause in a court decision. This caused the Disruption of 1843, when more than a third of the ministers walked out of the General Assembly to form the Free Church of Scotland. Andrew Murray’s uncle was one of the leaders of this Free Church party. These stirring events made a deep impression on the young man. This would also prepare him for future battles between civil authorities and the church.
Andrew and his brother both felt called to the ministry, so from Aberdeen they proceeded to Utrecht University in the Netherlands to learn Dutch and complete their theological training. In Holland, too, battles were raging in the church between advocates of a more rationalistic modern theology and upholders of traditional Calvinistic orthodoxy. The Murray boys joined a student society Sechor Dabar (Remember the Word), thus bearing witness to their essentially conservative convictions.
In 1848 both Andrew and John Murray were ordained at the Hague and returned to South Africa. Andrew was appointed to the Dutch Reformed congregation in Bloemfontein. At the age of twenty-one he found himself responsible for a parish covering an area of 80 500 square miles. Despite his youth, his earnest preaching and godly ways made a profound impression on the rough farmers who heard him. The comments made by an African who observed Murray preaching in the Transvaal give us a glimpse into his ministry: ‘I never thought that the white men stood in such fear of their chiefs. Look at the young chief yonder. He points his finger at the people: they sit quiet. He threatens them: they sit quite still. He storms and rages at them: they sit as quiet as death.[i]’
Dutch Reformed Church, Bloemfontein
Murray’s ability in Dutch and English and his reconciling nature fitted him well to function as a mediator between the British Government and the Boer leaders of the Transvaal. At the Sand River Convention of 1852, for example, at which the British guaranteed the independence of the South African Republic of the Transvaal, Murray acted as a translator. In the following year he was one of two men nominated by a National Convention held in Bloemfontein to go to England to dissuade the British Government from abandoning the Orange River Sovereignty. At the same time he was also commissioned by the Cape Synod to seek out ministers for the Colony in Scotland and Holland. The difficulties he experienced in this latter task made him an ardent advocate for the establishment of a theological seminary in the Cape to train an indigenous ministry. This ideal was realized in the establishment of the Stellenbosch Theological Seminary in 1857.
Stellenbosch Theological Seminary
In 1856 Murray was married to Emma Rutherford, a daughter of a Cape Town merchant. Four years later he accepted a call to the church in Worcester which he served for four years. While Murray was there, a number of congregations in the Cape, chiefly Dutch Reformed and Methodist, experienced a remarkable religious revival. It can be noted here that Andrew Murray was heir to a tradition of religious revivals. In Graaff-Reinet his father had prayed for many years for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the churches of his adopted country. The younger Murrays never forgot that their father’s study door was closed on Friday evenings as the faithful intercessor spent long hours in a time of fervent prayer for revival[ii].
The impact of the revival in Worcester was profound. Hundreds were received into membership of the church and about fifty men felt a call to fulltime Christian ministry. Murray wrote his most famous book, Abide in Christ, to help and guide those converted in the revival. Many more books of a devotional, inspirational and teaching character were to flow from his pen. In 1862 he was elected Moderator of the Dutch Reformed synod. Although only thirty-four he was able to provide a spirited and mature leadership in the church’s struggle against the inroads of rationalism and modernist theology.
After a seven-year stint as the minister of the Groote Kerk in Cape Town, the mother church of the Dutch Reformed denomination, Murray was called in 1871 to the congregation at Wellington where he served for the next thirty four years. His interest in education and missions led to him founding the Huguenot Seminary (1874) and the Wellington Missionary Training Institute (1877). He had previously been involved in founding Grey College in Bloemfontein (later the University of the Orange Free State) and the Normal College in Cape Town.
While at Wellington, Murray embarked on a number of evangelistic tours around the country. So successful were these that he was also invited to preach at Northfield in the USA and at Keswick in England. While remaining firmly grounded in his inherited Reformed theology Murray was deeply influenced by the holiness, revivalist and missionary movements of his time. He wrote a book about Divine Healing (1900) that paved the way for the Pentecostal movement in South Africa, although the tragic death of a close friend led him to modify his earlier views on healing. Perhaps the genius of Andrew Murray was that he was able to tap into many of the popular movements of spirituality and renewal in his day without yielding to sectarianism. For this reason he was held in such high honour by so many diverse strands of Christianity. Not that he was without his critics, both then and now. He has been charged by some Reformed theologians with introducing ‘Methodism’ and other unconventional doctrines into the Dutch Reformed Church. It is true that some of Murray’s teachings on The Second Blessing (1891) and divine healing led a few of his followers to break with the DRC and establish new churches. It has also been charged that Murray acquiesced in the decision of the 1857 Cape Synod to permit separate services for whites and blacks. Prior to that date all church members worshipped together. But pressure from the white members eventually led to the following resolution:
The Synod considers it desirable and scriptural that our members from the Heathen be received and absorbed into our existing congregations wherever possible; but where this measure, as a result of the weakness of some, impedes the furtherance of the cause of Christ among the Heathen, the congregation from the Heathen, already founded or still to be founded, shall enjoy its Christian privileges in a separate building or institution[iii].
It has been rightly observed that that synodical decision was one of the first steps on the road to the establishment of full-blown apartheid in 1948. Why then did Murray acquiesce in such a decision? It must be remembered that current missiological thinking at that time stressed the importance of missionary work bearing fruit in indigenous churches within the culture of the people evangelized. The formation of separate churches for particular people groups was supported by many, including Murray, as a step that would enhance the process of evangelization. Only later was the danger of this separatism fully realised as it developed into a religio-political system of oppression.
Whatever mistakes Murray and others of his generation made, his basic interest in the welfare and development of Africans cannot be doubted. In one of his last books, Religion and Politics, he warned against the practice of Afrikaner Nationalist politicians in promoting their political views, which led to the development of apartheid, as ‘Christian politics’[iv].
But we have no need to defend Murray. The best of Christ’s servants have their weaknesses and inevitably share in some of the deficiencies of their age. The treasure of the gospel is always carried in earthen vessels. The impact of Murray’s ministry continues to be felt, not least through his writings, which are still being published in many languages all around the world. Something of the spirit and burden of this man can be found in the following prayer, taken from his book The Spirit of Christ:
O God! Thou didst send Thy Son to be the Saviour of the world. Thou didst give Him power over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as Thou hast given Him. And Thou didst pour out Thy Spirit upon all flesh, commissioning as many as received Him to make known and pass on the wondrous blessing. In the Love and Power in which Thy Spirit was sent forth, He likewise sends forth those who yield themselves to Him, to be the instruments of His Power in glorifying Thy Son. We bless Thee for this Divine and most glorious salvation. O our God! we stand amazed, and abased, at the sloth and neglect of Thy Church in not fulfilling her Divine commission; we are humbled at our slowness of heart to perceive and believe what Thy Son did promise, to obey His will and finish His work. We cry to Thee, our God! visit Thy Church, and let Thy Spirit, the Spirit of the Divine Sending, fill all her children. O my Father! I dedicate myself afresh to Thee, to live and labour, to pray and travail, to sacrifice and suffer for Thy Kingdom. I accept anew in faith the wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit, the very Spirit of Christ, and yield myself to His indwelling. I humbly plead with Thee, give me and all Thy children to be so mightily strengthened by the Holy Spirit that Christ may possess heart and life, and our one desire be that the whole earth may be filled with His glory. Amen[v].