Warren Wiersbe

Warren Wiersbe, one of the preeminent Bible teachers and writers of our day, recently had his heavenly homegoing at the age of eighty-nine. A number of the obituaries written about Wiersbe noted that he had come to saving faith in Jesus Christ at a Youth for Christ rally where Billy Graham was the featured evangelist. Here is some more of the instructive story of Wiersbe’s Christian conversion.

Wiersbe grew up in East Chicago, Indiana, a steel town twenty-five miles southeast of Chicago. With his family he faithfully attended the Indiana Harbor Mission Covenant Church. “Most of the people in the church would have pointed me out as a ‘good Christian boy,’ but I had never really been born again,” Wiersbe later testified. “I was faithful in my attendance and was even confirmed in 1944 [at fifteen years of age], but I had never made that life-changing decision to trust Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Warren Wiersbe in Confirmation Class, age 15
Warren Wiersbe in Confirmation Class, age 15

Everett Ostrom was the church’s pastor when Wiersbe was confirmed. There were only four students in the class, but Ostrom faithfully taught and prayed for them. “I didn’t know until years later that every Saturday after confirmation class, Pastor Ostrom would fall on his face on the study floor and weep over me and pray for me. He knew I was pretending to be a Christian and he yearned to see me make a true decision for Christ.”

A year later the Chicago Youth for Christ ministry organization held three Saturday evening rallies at the auditorium of Washington High School where Wiersbe was a student. He was one of the many students who passed out invitations to the special meetings at school. He was also asked to serve as an usher at the rallies because he was considered “one of the best Christian boys” in town.

Billy Graham as Youth for Christ evangelist
Billy Graham as Youth for Christ evangelist

A then little-known evangelist named Billy Graham was invited to be the speaker at the opening rally on May 12, 1945. Graham, who was twenty-six years old at the time, had recently resigned a pastorate to become Youth for Christ’s first full-time evangelist. When the earnest young evangelist began to speak that evening, Wiersbe’s attention was completely “captivated.” He stood against the back wall of the auditorium, unable to move and unable to take his eyes off the evangelist.

“I heard every word he spoke and every Bible verse he quoted, and everything he said went right to my heart. Sure, I had heard it all before, but for the first time it came together and made sense. I saw that in spite of my character, my confirmation, my church attendance, and my host of religious relatives, I was a lost sinner who needed to trust Jesus Christ.”

Wiersbe did not wait for a public invitation to be given. “Right where I stood, I asked Jesus Christ to come into my heart and save me, and He did! I didn’t raise my hand for prayer, I didn’t fill out a card, I didn’t even go forward when the crowd sang ‘Just as I Am.’ But I did trust Christ and become a child of God.”

Wiersbe went on to devote his entire adult life to pointing people to Jesus as the Savior and helping them to grow in their Christian faith and their knowledge of God’s Word. He was always careful to emphasize that we don’t become a Christian and God’s child through our church affiliation and activities. Rather, we’re born again into God’s spiritual family by personally believing and receiving Christ Jesus as our Savior and Lord. (For those teachings in the Bible, see John 1:12 and 3:1-18.)

You can learn much more about Warren Wiersbe’s remarkable life of Christian faith and service in his excellent, humble autobiography Be Myself: Memoirs of a Bridgebuilder

Copyright 2019 by Vance E. Christie

Jonathan and Rosalind Goforth
Jonathan and Rosalind Goforth

One of the greatest necessities and challenges for Christians is to genuinely love those whom we serve. Such Christlike love makes our service much more effective, and enables us to faithfully serve even when ministering to difficult people or under trying circumstances. Rosalind Goforth, who served with her husband Jonathan as a missionary in China for forty-seven years, learned that love lesson from a fellow missionary and sought to live it out through her many years of faithful service.

About nine months after arriving in China in 1888, the Goforths moved to an inland mission station in Shantung Province. One of the missionaries serving there was a Mrs. S., who was widely known for her success in ministering to Chinese women. One day Rosalind went to visit her shortly after she returned from teaching in the neighboring villages. “Mrs. S., I wish you would tell me some of your experiences that might help me in reaching the women.” 

“I think something I went through today might help you,” the veteran missionary responded. She then related the following incident:

“This morning I went to a distant village where the Christian women of that section were to meet in a certain house for study. But it began to rain, and no outside women came. So I started to read with the Christian woman at the home. We were sitting close together on the kang [a brick platform bed]. I had my arm around her as we read. Suddenly she began to cry, saying, ‘O Mrs. S., don’t let us read any more! My heart is so full I must talk to you.’

Rosalind Goforth with her children
Rosalind Goforth with her children

“So I drew her closer while she told me her troubles. The woman went on to say: ‘My sister died some months ago, and since then I have had to care for her children as well as my own. Besides all the regular work of meals, sewing and so on, I have to weave cloth late into the night. And for weeks I have had no time for lice hunting. I and the whole family are just crawling with them. Even the bed we are sitting on is just alive!’ ”

“O Mrs. S.,” Rosalind gasped,” didn’t you jump off the kang?” She replied: “Mrs. Goforth, listen! I felt like it. But just as I was about to do so the words flashed through my mind, ‘The love of Christ constraineth us’ [2 Corinthians 5:14]. And instead I just drew the woman closer to me.”

When Rosalind heard this, tears flowed freely as she cried in her heart: “O God, give me such love for my service in China!” She would later write: “Never was the lesson forgotten, and in years to come it was often needed as like experiences were gone through.”

In 1890, after moving to the town of Chuwang in Honan Province, Rosalind needed to put that lesson into practice in what proved to be one of the greatest tests in all her missionary experiences of properly loving people. The people of Chuwang were initially quite hostile toward the Goforths as foreigners.

Rosalind had given strict instructions to the amah (nanny) of their infant son Paul never to carry the child outside the gateway of their home’s “fairly large courtyard with trees.” But one day as Jonathan and Rosalind were leaving to have lunch with a neighbor missionary, she turned to wave goodbye to the baby in his high chair. His face had a strange expression on it, and he was wriggling back and forth violently. Rosalind ran to her son, fearing something was hurting him. When she lifted his shirt, she discovered his entire back was covered with eighty big lice! (They counted them later.) She immediately stripped the child and put him in a bath.

Jonathan and Rosalind Goforth’s Gravestone

Some hours later, Rosalind conducted “a council of war” to determine the cause of what had happened. It was learned that, against her orders, the amah had taken the child into a Chinese home nearby. A Chinese teacher then spoke up to reveal further: “We must tell you the truth. It is not an uncommon thing for a woman who is jealous of another’s child to gather all the vermin possible and put it on the little one!”

Rosalind afterward related both her initial reaction and her eventual victorious response to this situation: “Oh, the horror of it! For days I went about simply loathing the thought of getting in close contact with the women again. But as with Mrs. S., divine love conquered, and from that time I felt a love for the women such as I had never realized before. A miracle? Yes, truly, the miracle of divine grace!”

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Rosalind Goforth wrote several inspiring books, including her autobiography Climbing, Memories of a Missionary’s Wife. I believe that volume is no longer in print, but can easily be found online through various used book sources. It is well worth the effort to track down and read the work, in which Rosalind honestly and humbly relates her own beneficial (and oftentimes remarkable) experiences of growing in her relationship with and service of the Lord. Reading that book may very well lead you to read several of her other works, as I have. 

Copyright 2019 by Vance E. Christie

James Kraft
James Kraft

Keeping our spiritual priorities straight, while pursuing our dreams and ambitions of life, is a common challenge for followers of Jesus Christ. Here’s the instructive story of how one committed Christian did that very successfully.

In 1903 an ambitious young man named James Kraft moved to Chicago, Illinois, with the desire of becoming the most successful manufacturer and salesman of cheese in the world. A dedicated Christian and a hard worker, James purchased a pony named Paddy and a wagon. He bought cheese in bulk wholesale and sold it to grocers in smaller quantities, neatly packaged in ways that delayed spoiling in an era before refrigeration.

Early each morning he loaded his wagon with cheese then delivered it to stores throughout the city. But as the months passed, Kraft began to despair. Despite all his long hours and hard work he was making very little profit.

One day he pulled his wagon to a stop and began talking to his pony: “Paddy, there is something wrong. We are not doing it right. I am afraid we have things turned around and our priorities are not where they ought to be. Maybe we ought to serve God and place Him first in our lives.” He then drove home and made a covenant that for the rest of his life he would first serve the Lord and then work as God directed.

Kraft went on to keep his pledge, and the Lord greatly prospered his business ventures. In 1916 he invented and patented a process of pasteurizing cheese which resisted spoiling and could be shipped long distances. In the years that followed his business expanded into international markets and developed a number of additional food products, leading to his company being renamed Kraft Foods, Inc.

North Shore Baptist Church - Chicago, IL
North Shore Baptist Church – Chicago, IL

James Kraft joined the North Shore Baptist Church in Chicago and served as Superintendent of its large Sunday School for forty years. As a Trustee of Northern Baptist Theological Seminary he underwrote the education of many eventual clergymen. His communications to employees were interspersed with Bible texts.

He used to say: “I would rather be a layman in the North Shore Baptist Church than to head the greatest corporation in America. My first job is serving Jesus.”

Serving Christ first, of course, does not guarantee that we’ll experience extraordinary success in our endeavors of life like James Kraft did. Many who put the Lord first in their lives enjoy a modest rather than an exceptional degree of success from a human perspective.

But all who put Jesus first and faithfully serve Him receive abundant blessings on all aspects of their lives – personal spiritual growth, ministry undertakings, career endeavors, interpersonal relationships and much more. Even more important than the blessings that come to us, Christ is rightly served and honored through our lives.

James Kraft Quote

Copyright 2019 by Vance E. Christie

Recently I saw two joggers pass by on the same street within minutes of each other. The first was a tall, trim young man. His posture was upright and he moved along at a brisk pace. He made running look effortless.

The second man was well into middle age and quite gray-haired. He was shorter and heavier than his younger predecessor. His posture was a bit stooped and he proceeded at a slower pace. Running was obviously a great deal of work for him.

I immediately thought: “Good for both of them!” They’re both making an effort to maintain or improve their health and strength. They’re not allowing themselves to decline.

It’s not hard to see parallels to the Christian life. Maintaining our personal relationship with the Lord, walking in steadfast moral obedience to Him and actively serving Him all require ongoing attention and effort. If we continue to work at the various areas of our Christian life, we’re able (with God’s help) to maintain good spiritual health or even improve it. But if we allow ourselves to become spiritually undisciplined and inactive then naturally our spiritual health and vitality are going to decline.

Committed younger Christians often manifest considerable enthusiasm and exertion in their personal devotion, obedience and service to Jesus. It’s a joy to see them running their spiritual race with such eagerness and discipline.

Faithful older Christians who have been in the spiritual race for a lot of years are an inspiration to watch as well. They may no longer have the high levels of physical energy and emotional intensity that they possessed in younger years. They may need to pace themselves a bit more slowly. But they still have a strong desire and determination to maintain a close personal relationship with the Lord, to honor Him through their habitual obedience and to be useful to Him through their steady service.

To all committed Christians, younger and older, I say, “Good for all of you! Way to maintain good spiritual health and diligence in the various areas of your Christian walk. With God’s gracious, ongoing encouragement and enablement, let’s all continue to do so through the whole course of life’s journey.”

And to any Christians who realize they’ve declined a bit in their spiritual lives, let’s remember that it’s always possible to regain our spiritual health. As would be the case with regaining good physical fitness, so we can renew sound spiritual health by recommitting ourselves to the focuses and disciplines that we know will help to strengthen us spiritually.  

One reason I greatly appreciate and enjoy reading historic Christian biography is that it provides numerous examples of outstanding believers who served Jesus faithfully and fervently all through life, in both their younger and older years. We can receive much encouragement and guidance for our own spiritual lives by considering their commendable examples.

Copyright 2019 by Vance E. Christie

Youth praying

When God’s Spirit first brought genuine spiritual revival to Andrew Murray’s church and community in Worcester, South Africa, the conservative young minister initially responded to it with considerable reserve. This is the second of a three-part miniseries on how Murray gradually came to understand that the sudden spiritual awakening truly was the Holy Spirit’s work, and how he went on to promote rather than futilely try to suppress it.

The year was 1860 and Murray, then age thirty-two, was the new minister of the Worcester Dutch Reformed Church. What had begun as the Prayer Meeting Revival in the United States in 1857-1858 had since brought powerful revivals to Ireland and Wales in 1859 before spreading to South Africa in 1860. (You can see my blogs on those earlier revivals as referenced in my April 15, 2019, Perspective.)

Historic Dutch Reformed Church in Worcester, South Africa
Historic Dutch Reformed Church in Worcester, South Africa

Not long after dramatic spiritual awakening first occurred in a rural portion of the Worcester parish, the revival suddenly flamed to life in the town as well. J. C. de Vries, a young man from Worcester who later became a Dutch Reformed Church minister, provided the following fascinating eye-witness account of the beginning of the revival in Worcester:

“On a certain Sunday evening there were gathered in a little hall some sixty young people. I was leader of the meeting, which commenced with a hymn and a lesson from God’s Word, after which I engaged in prayer. After three or four others had (as was customary) given out a verse of a hymn and offered prayer, a colored girl of about fifteen years of age, in service with a farmer from Hex River, rose at the back of the hall. She gave out her hymn verse and prayed in moving tones. While she was praying we heard as it were a sound in the distance, which came nearer and nearer, until the hall seemed to be shaken, and with one or two exceptions, the whole meeting began to pray, the majority in audible voice, but some in whispers. Nevertheless, the noise made by the concourse was deafening. A feeling which I cannot describe took possession of me.

Andrew Murray at age 28
Andrew Murray at age 28

“At that time Rev A. Murray was minister of Worcester. He had preached that evening in the English language. When service was over an elder passed the door of the hall, heard the noise, peeped in, and then hastened to call Mr. Murray, returning presently with him. Mr. Murray came forward to the table where I knelt praying, touched me, and made me understand that he wanted me to rise. He then asked me what had happened. I related everything to him.

“He then walked down the hall for some distance, and called out, as loudly as he could, ‘People, silence!’ But the praying continued. In the meantime I too kneeled down again. It seemed to me that if the Lord was coming to bless us, I should not be upon my feet but on my knees. Mr. Murray then called again aloud, ‘People, I am your minister, sent from God. Silence!’ But there was no stopping the noise. No one heard him, but all continued praying and calling on God for mercy and pardon. Mr. Murray then returned to me, and told me to start the hymn verse commencing, ‘Aid the soul that helpless cries’. I did so, but the emotions were not quieted, and the meeting went on praying. Mr. Murray then prepared to depart, saying, ‘God is a God of order, and here everything is confusion.’ With that he left the hall.

“After that the prayer meetings were held every evening. At the commencement there was generally great silence, but after the second or third prayer the whole hall was moved as before, and every one fell to praying. Sometimes the gathering continued till three in the morning. And even then many wished to remain longer, or returning homewards, went singing through the streets. The little hall was soon quite too small, and we were compelled to move to the school building, which also was presently full to overflowing, as scores and hundreds of country folk streamed into the village.

“On the first Saturday evening in the larger meetinghouse Mr. Murray was the leader. He read a portion of Scripture, made a few observations on it, engaged in prayer, and then gave others the opportunity to pray. During the prayer which followed on his, I heard again the sound in the distance. It drew nearer and nearer, and on a sudden the whole gathering was praying. That evening a stranger had been standing at the door from the commencement, watching the proceedings. Mr. Murray descended from the platform, and moved up and down among the people, trying to quiet them. The stranger then tiptoed forwards from his position at the door, touched Mr. Murray gently, and said in English: ‘I think you are the minister of the congregation. Be careful what you do, for it is the Spirit of God that is at work here. I have just come from America, and this is precisely what I witnessed there.’

“The fruits of that revival were seen in the congregation for many years. They consisted, among others, in this, that fifty young men offered themselves for the ministry. And this happened in days when it was a difficult matter to find young men for the work of the ministry.”

From the statements made by and about other ministers involved in the early stages of the South African revival it is evident that Murray was not alone in his cautious initial responses to the sudden spiritual awakening. Their reserved responses are not altogether hard to understand. They were not at all accustomed to seeing strong or even overwhelming emotional responses on the part of their congregations. To see a whole congregation of people bursting out simultaneously in prayer, crying out for God to have mercy on their souls, seemingly unaware of their surroundings and unable to restrain themselves, did not fit with Murray’s lifelong training and notions that God is not the author of confusion and that divine worship is to be conducted decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:33, 40). Murray may have also had reservations about a purported mighty moving of God’s Spirit coming primarily through prayer rather than in conjunction with a pronounced emphasis on the proclamation of God’s Word.

To his credit, as will be shared in my next Perspective (D.V.), Murray went on to support the awakening and was significantly used of the Lord in promoting it in South Africa.

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Andrew Murray by Vance Christie

A full account of the revival in South Africa is recorded in chapters 11 and 12 of my 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

When the Spirit of God brings bona fide spiritual revival to the Church it is often not only an astounding but also an overwhelming experience for those who are part of it. During times of spiritual awakening God’s Spirit works so powerfully in people’s lives that previously-careless non-Christians become intensely convicted of their sins and cry out to God for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Christians, too, earnestly repent of their sins and are tremendously quickened in every area of their spiritual lives—worship, prayer, study of Scripture, holy living, evangelism, service and more.

Such periods of revival have sometimes been so overwhelming that they have not always been neat and orderly. But because genuine revival is the work of God’s Spirit it always produces truly spiritual results (like those just named) that are in keeping with God’s will as revealed in His Word.

Andrew Murray at age 28
Andrew Murray at age 28

Andrew Murray was still a young pastor when revival came to South Africa in 1860-1861. He actually needed to learn to loosen his grip on the reins over his congregation and to realize that he could not control how the Spirit of God carried out His powerful, reviving work in the lives of people. Murray did indeed learn those lessons and was therefore used of the Lord to help promote the awakening. Here’s the first of a three-part miniseries on Andrew Murray’s experiences and lessons learned concerning revival. We can learn much from his example.

In 1857-1858 what became known as the Prayer Meeting Revival swept across the United States (see my July 6, 2015, Perspective on that revival). That mighty working of God’s Spirit next ignited powerful revivals in Ireland and Wales in 1859, then brought widespread spiritual awakening to South Africa beginning in 1860. After the revival’s dramatic beginning in Montagu, South Africa (see my July 25, 2015, Perspective), it spread to Worcester, where Andrew Murray, at thirty-two years of age, had recently been called as pastor of the Dutch Reformed Church.

Historic Dutch Reformed Church in Worcester, South Africa
Historic Dutch Reformed Church in Worcester, South Africa

The awakening there actually began on the farm of David Naude in the rural Breede River ward of the Worcester parish. Three individuals— Naude’s son Jan, Jan’s cousin Miss Van Blerk and an old native farmhand named Saul Pieterse—had been faithfully meeting weekly for several months to pray for revival. Miss Van Blerk taught the servants on the farm and was particularly distressed over their spiritually-needy condition. She became so burdened for them that she prayed almost continuously for a week. Then one evening shortly thereafter, God’s Spirit moved suddenly and mightily on a meeting she was holding for the servants. The spiritual distress of the people became so great that she ran from the meeting place to seek help with the situation.

The emotional strain of the sudden, ongoing awakening soon overtaxed Miss Van Blerk, and she retreated to Worcester for a week. Upon her return to the farm, the workers came out, singing, to greet her. Reportedly nearly everyone on the farm was converted.

As news of these developments quickly spread, people from neighboring farms—“young and old, parents and children, white and colored”—promptly began streaming to the previously-neglected prayer meeting. According to one person’s description, the people who gathered there were “driven by a common impulse to cast themselves before God and utter their souls in cries of penitence.”

Murray came to lead one of the meetings not long after the revival first broke out. But after giving his careful instructions and inviting individuals to pray one at a time, the whole group immediately burst into simultaneous prayer, pleading for mercy and forgiveness. At that point old Saul jumped up, faced Murray and Naude, and challenged them, “Try now to throw a dam wall around if you can!” By that he basically meant, “Just try to contain the work of God’s Spirit if you think you can.”

Members from other parts of the parish and even from other congregations began to arrive at the Naude farm in carts and wagons. For three months the Naudes needed to suspend their farming activities to assist the many people coming to seek salvation.

Not long after Murray officiated at the prayer meeting at David Naude’s farm, the awakening flamed to life in the town of Worcester. (To be continued …)

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Andrew Murray by Vance Christie

A full account of the revival in South Africa is recorded in chapters 11 and 12 of my 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

Andrew Murray at age 28
Andrew Murray at age 28

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.

Bloemfontein about 1856
Bloemfontein about 1856

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.

Handwritten Letter

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.”

Cape Town, South Africa, about 1850
Cape Town, South Africa, about 1850

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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Andrew Murray by Vance Christie

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

Andrew Murray at age 28.
Andrew Murray at age 28.

Here’s the first of a two-part feature on a major speed bump Andrew Murray hit on his road to matrimony. His example serves as a helpful reminder that committed Christians need to exercise sensitivity and wisdom rather than being presumptuous in working through the complexities of romance and courtship.

Murray was a capable, consecrated and confident Christian minister who enjoyed marked success in his endeavors of life. A family member wrote of him in his early years of ministry: “[Andrew] is so bold, he carries the day. ‘Never fear’ is his motto. He never anticipates difficulties or refusals. With Andrew an idea suggests itself, approves itself to his judgment and then he never rests till it is carried out.” This appears to have been Murray’s general outlook on and approach to life. While such a confident outlook and bold approach often brought him success, they likely contributed to his failure in his first proposal of marriage.

In 1854, at age twenty-six, Murray was honored to be 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 Orange River Sovereignty. The ORS was the large region between the Orange and Vaal Rivers in South Africa.

Cape Town, South Africa, about 1850.

Shortly after returning to South Africa from England in May, 1855, Murray was introduced to Howson Edwards Rutherfoord, a respected and influential Christian merchant, philanthropist and politician in Cape Town. Rutherfoord, his wife and children belonged to the Church of England. Though they were devoted to their own denomination, the Rutherfoords’ Christian sympathies were broad, and they were well-known for their generous hospitality to missionaries of every society and denomination.

Howson Rutherfoord memorial fountain

Upon meeting Murray, Rutherfoord promptly invited the young clergyman to join his family for dinner at their home on Herschel Estate near Claremont, one of the southern suburbs of Cape Town. After that, Murray was a regular and welcome guest at the Rutherfoords’ home and table. As the hospitable Mr. and Mrs. Rutherfoord were inclined to do with some of their guests, before long they invited Murray to stay in their home for a time.

Murray, who had just turned twenty-seven years of age, soon began to be attracted to the Rutherfoords’ twenty-year-old daughter, Emma. Emma’s older sister, Mary, was married and lived with her husband in India, while Emma’s older brother, Frederic, was pursuing his education in England. Emma also had two younger sisters, Ellen and Lucy, both of whom were still living at home.

Howson Rutherfoord memorial fountain inscription

Since the time of Mary’s marriage three years earlier, Emma had inherited the title of ‘Miss Rutherfoord’ and carefully fulfilled her duties as the eldest daughter at home by paying calls with her mother, helping to receive visitors and keeping the weekly household accounts. Emma taught children’s classes at the High Church School in Claremont, regularly visited the sick and poor, and carried out a tract distribution ministry.

Emma and her sisters were taught at home by their mother and visiting governesses and masters. Besides studying such basics as reading, writing, grammar, literature, arithmetic, history and geography, the Rutherfoord girls also received lessons in French, Italian, German and Dutch. Emma and her sisters were also trained in skills that were considered essential for accomplished young women in the Victorian era – music (both singing and playing the piano), fancy needle work as well as drawing and painting. Emma was an avid reader and had an appreciation for a wide variety of books.

As Murray observed and learned more about Emma he was impressed with her and his heart was drawn to her. Though he had known her less than a month, he concluded he desired to marry her. He further decided to propose to her straightaway, apparently presuming she would be receptive to that. As it turned out, he was completely mistaken.

Besides the fact that his proposal was totally unexpected, it was also poorly timed. Emma and Ellen were right in the middle of helping with a children’s birthday party for the five-year-old son of some neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Boyle. Mr. Boyle was Aide-de-camp to Cape Colony’s new Governor, Sir George Grey. In addition to a sizeable group of children, the party was to be attended by Sir George and Lady Grey themselves. Young Mordaunt Boyle’s birthday was on Thursday, June 21. After spending that entire morning at the Boyles’ house finishing the decorating, Emma and Ellen returned to their own home. They planned to be back for the party the latter half of the afternoon.

Murray had left the Rutherfoords’ home that morning but returned ‘most unexpectedly’ early that afternoon. Finding Emma alone, he presented her with a rather businesslike proposal of marriage. She was so completely stunned by it that she was unable to make any reply. Instead, she fled to her bedroom and locked herself in. When Ellen, who had gone out riding, returned home, she found her sister, very uncharacteristically, in an overwrought state. As a result of these unfortunate developments, both sisters were too upset to return to the Boyles’ for the birthday party. While there is no record of Andrew Murray’s response to all this, likely he retreated from the Rutherfoords’ home feeling confused, distressed and embarrassed at what he had unintentionally precipitated.

The next morning Emma composed a written refusal to Murray’s proposal: “Dear Sir, It was with feelings of perfect astonishment and wonder that I received your communications yesterday, which on further consideration quickly changed into those of deep pain and regret. A proposal of marriage after so short an acquaintance shocked me much. It seemed to me that there could be no mutual sympathy, and no clear knowledge of character, necessary for so close, so holy a relationship. With these sentiments I feel obliged to decline any further acquaintance. But wishing you a safe journey and much prosperity in your future labors, Believe me, yours truly, Emma Rutherfoord.”

In a letter written that same day to her sister Mary, Emma further revealed: “I cannot tell you what pain and suffering this has cost me. And more so I cannot help feeling that if left to himself he would not have proceeded with such haste, but that he has been spurred on by the Rev. Mr. Long and his Uncle Rev. Mr. Stegmann, as up to that unfortunate day his conduct had been such as to put me perfectly at ease. Our interaction hitherto had been so pleasant and I had entertained such a respect for his character, felt that his mind was no ordinary one, that his want [lack] of appreciation and consideration has wounded me most painfully.

“To my real character I feel he is as perfect a stranger as I am to his. And if I loved him with all my heart, it would be a bitter trial and a great sacrifice to leave such a home as mine, and enter into a field of much hardship and self-denial. Of all this he seems to have made no note. While I feel it must be a love passing anything I have yet known, to keep me from fainting under the trials and sorrows of wedded life – a love that I feel in my inmost soul that I am capable of and therefore will never marry anyone till I feel it awakened. No respect, no ideas of usefulness (for they would be false where my heart was not) shall ever induce me to leave my home.”

Three days later, on Monday, June 25, Emma concluded her letter to Mary: “Mr. Murray called on Papa today to know if my answer was decisive and negative. I feel so fashed [vexed], so wearied about it. It pains me that one of no ordinary mental capacity and vigor of piety should be so totally devoid of proper feelings on this one point. And then I get vexed with myself for feeling so pained … Sad that one whose mental superiority and whose work is all I could desire, should so want heart cultivation.”

(To be continued …)

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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

Tim Challies maintains an outstanding daily blog at www.challies.com on a wide range of important issues from a sound Evangelical Christian perspective. While most of Tim’s features have to do with pressing contemporary topics, he also has a strong interest in historic Christian matters, especially those that help believers live for and serve the Lord well today.

Tim recently posted a blog entitled “Biographies for People Who Have Never Read a Biography”. It’s a relatively brief and very beneficial article that provides three tips for getting started in reading Christian biography. Tim also succinctly describes ten manageable biographies from which readers could choose in beginning to delve into this type of profitable reading.

I’d encourage you to check out this article and Tim’s remarkable blog. I think you’ll be glad you did.

Boer Family 1886
Boer Family 1886

It seems that many Christian ministers aspire to serve in a larger city and church setting which carries with it a degree of prestige and prominence. Not a few Christian ministers struggle a bit to serve contentedly in a smaller church and community context which may bring less esteem and eminence.

Faithful ministers with appropriate motives are needed in both larger and smaller ministry contexts, of course. Whatever size ministry setting Christians find themselves in, they need to realize the crucial importance of the service opportunities God has entrusted to them presently. And they should willingly give themselves to carry out heartily their present ministry responsibilities.

Andrew Murray eventually became the most prominent pastor in South Africa in the late 1800s and early 1900s. But the first eleven years of his pastoral career were spent ministering in a smaller, isolated community and in a vast, sparsely-populated frontier region. He gave himself wholly to that demanding ministry and as a result experienced a good degree of fulfillment and fruitfulness in it.

Murray was born and spent the first ten years of his life in Graaff-Reinet, Cape Colony, South Africa. After spending a decade getting his secondary and university education in Scotland and Holland, he returned to South Africa in 1848 to begin serving as a minister at age twenty. He was assigned to serve as the first pastor of a new town and British military outpost, Bloemfontein, which had been established two years earlier beyond the northern border of Cape Colony.

During the 1830s and 1840s around 20,000 Boers (Dutch farmers) had migrated from Cape Colony to the immense regions north of the Orange and Vaal Rivers. In addition to ministering at Bloemfontein, Murray served as the first settled minister to the voortrekkers (Dutch pioneers) in that vast frontier region of nearly 50,000 square miles.

When Murray arrived at Bloemfontein it had about fifty houses, a few stores and shops, a courthouse and prison, a military fortress and barracks, and a schoolhouse which doubled as a church meeting house until a separate church building could be erected. As Bloemfontein was home to a British military outpost, most of the town’s residents were English. Initial attendance at the Sunday afternoon English-speaking worship service averaged around seventy. A smaller Dutch-speaking worship service was held Saturday evenings. Sunday school classes were held for English and Dutch children as well as the children of a group of African Bushmen who lived nearby Bloemfontein.

Andrew Murray as a young man
Andrew Murray as a young man

The plains throughout that region teemed with a wide variety of game and wild animals. Once while traveling to hold services at a location about seventy miles from Bloemfontein, Murray had to cross a wolf-infested plain at a time when they were very fierce. After fording a river, he dismounted to rest his horse. When the grazing animal heard a pack of wolves approaching, it spooked and ran off. Carrying his pack on his shoulders, Murray had to walk some twelve or fifteen miles to the nearest house. “How did you do it?” the surprised farmer who lived there inquired. ”I knew I was in the path of duty,” Murray answered calmly, “so prayed to God to keep me, and walked straight on. The wolves snapped at me but did not touch me.”

Between 1849 and 1852 Murray carried out four ministerial tours in the area north of the Vaal River known as the Transvaal. During the first itineration, which lasted just over six weeks, he traveled some 800 miles on horseback and by ox-drawn wagon. He conducted a total of thirty-seven services at six different locations. In addition, he baptized 567 children and interviewed well over 300 young people for church membership, 167 of whom were accepted upon their clear profession of faith in Christ Jesus for salvation.

While Murray would wear a beard throughout most of his adult life, at this time he was still clean shaven and looked quite boyish. But he quickly gained the respect of the Transvaal Boers through his serious, confident demeanor, his overwhelming fervency and his willingness to sacrifice himself for their spiritual wellbeing.

A contemporary testified of the intensity and gravity with which Murray ministered on the frontier: “When preaching, so absorbed was he in his message that should he by his violent gestures knock down Bible and reading desk of the impromptu pulpit, he would not notice it. Solemn were the confirmation services when, before the final confirmation promise was made, he would lift his hand, and with deep emotion would adjure them not to reject the Savior, saying, “If you do and promise falsely to be true to Christ, this hand will witness against you in the day of judgment.”

The residents of some of the areas where Murray ministered pleaded with him to accept their call to leave Bloemfontein and come as their settled pastor. When two men arrived from a settlement some 300 miles beyond where Murray was ministering during his first Transvaal tour, he had to tell them that he would not be able to come and minister in their area for eight months.

He afterward wrote his parents: “When the men heard that they could not be visited for such a time, they were in tears, as they had hoped I might go with them, and when they left again they could not speak. I hardly know what to say when the people begin to discourse about their spiritual destitution and their desire after the Word. Suppose another minister should refuse to come here, but be willing to take Bloemfontein, what would you think of my coming here? … The way in which some of the people here plead really moves my heart. Many are in a fit state for receiving the seed of the Word. May the Lord in His mercy help them.”

Murray had promised to visit the Transvaal’s northernmost Dutch settlement at Zoutpansbergen during his fourth ministry tour. But when word came that the settlers at that location were suffering from repeated attacks of malaria and that several individuals had already died, he was strongly advised not to proceed into that unhealthy region. Since arrangements had already been made for the services there, however, Murray considered it his duty to fulfill his ministerial obligation.

After he arrived there he learned that in recent weeks twenty-four of the 150 settlers at Zoutpansbergen had perished from malaria, eighteen of those within a fortnight of contracting the disease. No home had been spared from death. The majority of those isolated people had not had access to religious services for several years and were overjoyed with this opportunity.

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Andrew Murray by Vance Christie

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