Here’s the second of a two-part feature on how Andrew Murray successfully recovered after failing in his initial proposal of marriage to Emma Rutherfoord. (If you haven’t already done so, you can read about Murray’s initial failed attempt in my March 1, 2019 Perspective.) Murray learned from his mistakes on that occasion, and committed Christians today can learn a thing or two from his example about exercising sensitivity and prudence in working through the complexities of romance and courtship.
In 1854, at age twenty-six, Murray was one of two delegates sent to England to represent to the British Government the interests of the British and Dutch settlers he ministered to in the frontier region of South Africa. After returning to South Africa from Britain in May, 1855, Murray was introduced to Howson Rutherfoord, a prosperous Christian merchant and philanthropist in Cape Town. While staying as a temporary guest in the Rutherfoords’ home, Murray met and was attracted to their twenty-year-old daughter Emma. She was attractive, well-educated, a capable homemaker and an active Christian who had interest in serving as a missionary should such an opportunity present itself.
Murray needed to return soon to Bloemfontein, the frontier town where his ministry was headquartered. Though he had known Emma less than a month, he concluded he would like to marry her. Before leaving Cape Town he decided to ask for her hand in marriage, assuming she would be receptive to his proposal. Apparently his proposal was quite businesslike and not at all romantic in nature. She was shocked and dismayed that Murray, a godly and capable young minister who had already gained a degree of prominence, would propose marriage when they did not know each other well. And he did not appear to take into account the sacrifices she would have to make if she were to accept his proposal. As a result, she flatly refused his proposal and stated her wish to decline further acquaintance with him.
Emma wrote her sister Mary about the situation the first week of July. The correspondence reveals that, despite her strong front, Emma was having difficulty putting the unsettling developments with Andrew Murray out of her mind: “Mr Murray has left Cape Town today. He called on Papa on Saturday, and said that he felt that his conduct had been very wrong, did not seek to extenuate [excuse] it, under any circumstances it had been wrong, but that his mind had been very harassed and pressed, his people constantly urging his return [to Bloemfontein]. He had only left them for ten months and had been absent twenty.
“He felt at the same time the disadvantage and pain of his entirely lonely condition, no one he could associate with or make a companion, and that he had acted hastily without due consideration for me. He expressed extreme regret. Papa said he was evidently agitated and his mind overpressed, and also said he felt how entirely proper and just my conduct had been, that it had only heightened his esteem, and begged to be allowed to send me his very best regards. …
“I don’t feel quite happy in a variety of ways, but however I am trying to think of nothing but the present day and its duties. For to myself I seem moving in the midst of clouds, though I daresay to others all looks bright around me.”
Murray returned to Bloemfontein, where he threw himself into his ministry endeavors. Meanwhile, Emma was still finding it impossible not to think about Murray and what might have been, as her letter of September 28 to Mary betrays: “Don’t be alarmed about me, though you cannot, not knowing, appreciate the intellect, originality, earnestness and goodness of my friend [Murray]. Yet I never allow my mind to dwell on the subject long without feeling a sort of shudder for a want [lack of sensitivity on his part] inexplicable. And whenever any of his good qualities come in view, still this feeling drives me from relenting in any way. Yet there was much that was pleasant in the anticipation of the realization of so many of my daydreams, which seem to me now completely shattered. It seems as though my desire for a missionary life can never be realized. I don’t know that I am fitted for it …
“Mr. Murray has a far larger and more comprehensive mind, and I do trust he will get a good wife. He may pick and choose from all the young ladies in town, Dutch or English, for they adore him. And perhaps I have done him good and schooled his heart a little, for he seemed to have appreciation of my reasons [for rejecting his proposal], which I scarcely at first anticipated. Perhaps the next time he falls in love he will act in a different manner. I don’t know where he is to get a companion in his wife, but I earnestly hope he will have a good one and a helpmeet. Many things now make me feel it would not have been desirable for either party. And yet I have rather a dread, to speak the truth, of becoming moss grown and dank and rusty before my time.”
But Murray had not forgotten Emma. He still desired to marry her. Sometime early in 1856 (probably February) he wrote to ask her forgiveness for past offenses and to learn if he might have some hope of winning her as his wife in the future. In a March 20 letter to Mary, Emma revealed of her response to Murray: “I wrote I am conscious but a cold answer to a very kind letter. … But I must and do still refuse to decide without further acquaintance. And he only asks forgiveness of the past, and some hope for the future. Whether the very small degree [of hope] I felt justified in giving him he will consider enough to venture on returning to Cape Town, I know not. He will have much to hazard. … I assure you my letter was perfectly cool enough to make him quite happy in terminating the acquaintance if he feels inclined.”
Less than two weeks after penning the above words, Emma received a reply from Murray which persuaded her of his genuine attachment to her and broke down her resistance. Somewhat surprisingly, she set aside the condition she had she had just given him that they must first become better acquainted through an in-person visit. Instead, she promptly indicated her willingness to marry him and to return with him to Bloemfontein.
Her April 5 letter to Mary brings to light some of the sentiments Murray had shared with Emma that led to her change of heart: “He is very romantic in his disposition. All sorts of things that in reading German poetry and plays I had put down to German mystery and romance, I find he fully sympathizes in. I thought no one in this matter-of-fact age did, that it was only the philosophy of poets. …
“I must say it seems very odd that he should have fallen in love with me in so short a time, excepting that he explains it by these mysterious sympathies which made him love me the first time we met and drew us together. He acknowledges he did wrong in acting on impulse and forgetting my feelings in the first instance, when he found he must leave. But he hopes that various reasons that he gives, such as not being able to forget me, etc., will convince me that they were not mere transitory feelings and impulses. He expatiates on the sacrifices he asks from me.”
Due to tribal unrest in the Bloemfontein region that made it impossible for Murray to leave there immediately, he was not able to return to Cape Town until May 31. As it would likely be at least another year before he could venture back to Cape Town, Emma consented to a short engagement and to go with her beloved to Bloemfontein immediately after they were married. Their wedding took place on July 2, 1856.
Andrew and Emma’s marriage relationship truly was a blessed one. They attentively cared for each other and worked together well in their shared ministry. Four months after their wedding, Emma wrote Mary from Bloemfontein, sharing intimate thoughts of appreciation and affection for Murray: “I am anxious to be a good housekeeper, especially as Andrew never finds fault with anything I do. … He always listens to the smallest little household trouble and tries to find me a remedy, and does everything I ask him and gets what I wish. You cannot imagine a more sympathizing, loving husband, so tender and gentle to his wife. … I certainly never knew before I could be so bound to anyone or love anyone so much. It seems a new faculty I had been perfectly unconscious of, and almost overwhelming in its strength and depth of joy.”
Andrew and Emma went on to share forty-eight happy, fruitful years of marriage and ministry together.
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I have written a comprehensive biography on Murray entitled Andrew Murray, Christ’s Anointed Minister to South Africa. Much spiritual encouragement and instruction can be gained through the consideration of his outstanding life of service for Christ Jesus.
Copyright 2019 by Vance E. Christie