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 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

Christian parents rightly seek to share the Gospel (Good News) of salvation with their children and to lead them, at an early age if possible, to Jesus Christ as their personal Savior from sin. By God’s grace, some children do come to saving faith in Jesus early in life. But parents eager for their children’s salvation need to guard against assuming their kids have been saved simply because they’ve heard the Gospel and made some sort of an elementary profession such as “I asked Jesus into my heart” or “I believe in Jesus.”

Andrew Murray as a young man

Instead parents need to listen carefully for indications that their children have a clear understanding of the Gospel and an abiding trust in Christ and His death for them on the cross as their only means of salvation. Parents should also look for ongoing spiritual interest and fruit, which inevitably accompanies genuine salvation, in the lives of their children.

Andrew Murray, who eventually became arguably the greatest Christian preacher and devotional writer ever to come from South Africa, serves as an example of these truths concerning a young person’s salvation. Murray was raised by devout parents in a conservative Christian home and church until he was ten years of age (see my Jan. 29, 2015 Perspective on Murray’s upbringing entitled, “A Godly Parentage Is a Priceless Boon”). Throughout his growing up years he showed some sensitivity to spiritual matters. He had numerous opportunities to come to saving faith in Christ. But he did not do so until he was a theology student preparing for the Christian ministry. And until he did so, his parents never assumed his salvation but kept fervently praying for it.

Andrew Murray, Sr.

Andrew’s father, Andrew Murray, Sr., pastored the Dutch Reformed Church in Graaff-Reinet, South Africa, for over forty years. Opportunities for secondary and university education were severely limited in South Africa in the first half of the nineteenth century. So Murray, Sr., and his wife Maria made the painful decision in 1838 to send their two oldest sons, John and his younger brother Andrew, at the tender ages of twelve and ten, to live with an uncle, Rev. John Murray, in Aberdeen, Scotland. There the boys could receive a sound secondary and university education.

The year Andrew and John arrived in Scotland a dramatic spiritual awakening began sweeping across the country. In the spring and fall of 1840 William Chalmers Burns, the primary human agent used of God in igniting that bona fide revival, visited and ministered in Aberdeen for several weeks. He preached to densely crowded audiences in three separate churches each Sunday. Every weekday he led prayer meetings in the morning and afternoon, then gave a public address in the evening. Untold hundreds or even thousands of people came under pressing conviction of their sin, cried out to God for mercy and were saved at that time.

William Chalmers Burns, later as a missionary to China

Burns was a frequent guest in Rev. John Murray’s home. Andrew and John had the opportunity to converse with the evangelist about spiritual matters and to witness first-hand many of the stirring spiritual events then unfolding in Aberdeen. After leaving Aberdeen, Burns wrote Andrew and John, urging them not to delay in turning to Christ as their Savior. But despite all those advantages, neither Andrew nor John was converted under Burns’ ministry.

The Murray brothers excelled in their studies. They were admitted to Marischal College, Aberdeen, Andrew with an academic scholarship. While heartily commending them for their academic success, their father earnestly wrote to them about the greater importance of their Christian conversion: “I am well aware, my dear boys, that neither you nor I can ever change the heart. But let me entreat you both, with all the intense affection of a Christian clergyman and a loving father, to pray daily that God may in mercy be pleased to do so by His Holy Spirit. Many distinguished students have been taken away by death in the midst of their literary and scientific pursuits. And although I trust God will spare you long to be useful in the world, yet should He take one or another of you away in youth, the consolation of the bleeding hearts of parents would not be that you had excelled in human acquirements, however important in themselves, but that there was reason to believe that you died in the Lord.” 

Nine months later, on August 1, 1844, he wrote similarly: “Every parent wishes to see his family ‘getting on,’ as it is termed, but what unspeakable joy for the heart of a Christian parent to hear good ground for believing that his children shall have an eternal inheritance in Heaven! Oh!, when may I through the free grace of God have this soul’s joy with respect to you both? Do not think I am needlessly anxious. Every letter I write to you may be the last you may receive from me. One of our nearest neighbors spoke to me in tolerable health on Monday and died on Tuesday. This is a digression, but with such warnings we ought to live and act as dying creatures.”

Before that letter reached Aberdeen, Andrew had written to inform his father that he had decided to devote his life to pastoral ministry. After receiving that intelligence, the father immediately responded: “I have now to congratulate you on your choice of a profession, and rejoice that the Lord has been pleased to incline your heart the way He has done. I trust, however, my dear boy, that you have given your heart to Jesus Christ, to be His now and His forever, to follow Him through good and through bad report.”

Andrew and John graduated from Marischal College, the latter as the salutatorian of their class, the following spring. By then John had also determined to prepare for the Christian ministry, so he and Andrew decided to pursue their theological education at the Academy of Utrecht in Holland. There they joined a small group of consecrated students who had as their stated purpose “to promote the study of the subjects required for the ministerial calling in the spirit of the revival” that had visited Holland some twenty years earlier.

Sometime during his first autumn at Utrecht, Andrew Murray experienced a personal spiritual transformation that he ever afterwards called his conversion. In a letter dated November 14, 1845, he informed his parents of his spiritual rebirth: “My Dear Parents – It was with very great pleasure that I today received your letter containing the announcement of the birth of another brother. And equal, I am sure, will be your delight when I tell you that I can communicate to you far gladder tidings, over which angels have rejoiced, that your son has been born again. …

“For the last two or three years there has been a process going on, a continual interchange of seasons of seriousness and then forgetfulness, and then again of seriousness soon after. But after I came to Holland I think I was led to pray in earnest; more I cannot tell, for I know it not. ‘Whereas I was blind, now I see’ [John 9:25]. I was long troubled with the idea that I must have some deep sight of my sins before I could be converted. And though I cannot yet say that I have had anything of that deep special sight into the guiltiness of sin which many people appear to have, yet I trust, and at present I feel as if I could say, I am confident that as a sinner I have been led to cast myself on Christ. What can I say now, my dear Parents, but call on you to praise the Lord with me? At present I am in a peaceful state. I cannot say that I have had any seasons of special joy, but I think that I enjoy a true confidence in God.”

May many Christian parents today similarly have the blessing of wisely urging and fervently praying their children to Christ, even when a considerable number of years are involved in that process.

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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

Adoniram Judson

As we approach the New Year it is beneficial to take stock of our lives and to tune up any areas that need it in order to promote our overall health, happiness and effectiveness. Our resolutions for the New Year should certainly include needed spiritual disciplines that will enable us be more faithful and fruitful in our service of the Lord Jesus.

 Adoniram Judson was a pioneer missionary to Burma (modern Myanmar) who carried out nearly four decades of diligent service there. He persevered through staggering challenges and difficulties to spread the Gospel throughout Burma, to translate the entire Bible into the Burmese language and to see healthy Christian congregations established in various parts of the country.

Throughout his career Judson sought to govern his personal spiritual life and ministry with a high degree of discipline. At thirty years of age, after nearly six years of service in Burma, he adopted a set of personal ‘rules’ by which to live:

1. Be diligent in secret prayer, every morning and evening.

2. Never spend a moment in mere idleness.

3. Restrain natural appetites within the bounds of temperance and purity. ‘Keep thyself pure.’

4. Suppress every emotion of anger and ill will.

5. Undertake nothing from motives of ambition, or love of fame.

6. Never do that which, at the moment, appears to be displeasing to God.

7. Seek opportunities of making some sacrifice for the good of others, especially of believers, provided the sacrifice is not inconsistent with some duty.

8. Endeavor to rejoice in every loss and suffering incurred for Christ’s sake and the Gospel’s, remembering that though, like death, they are not to be willfully incurred, yet, like death, they are great gain.

Seven and a half years later, Judson ‘readopted’ those rules and drafted an additional set of ‘minor rules’ to further regulate his behavior:

1. Rise with the sun.

2. Read a certain portion of Burman every day, Sundays excepted.

3. Have the Scriptures and some devotional book in constant reading.

4. Read no book in English that has not a devotional tendency.

5. Suppress every unclean thought and look.

Six months later, now at age thirty-eight, Judson rededicated himself to continue to live, with the Lord’s help, by both those sets of high standards: “Revised and readopted all the above rules, particularly the second of the first class [‘Never spend a moment in mere idleness’], on Sunday, March 11, 1827. God grant me grace to keep the above rules, and ever live to his glory, for Jesus Christ’s sake.”

Such careful discipline continued to characterize Judson’s life and service throughout the remainder of his career and was a primary factor in his remarkable diligence and success. As we adopt and live by similar disciplines that fit our particular challenges and ministry circumstances in life, we will also be enabled by God to live faithfully and productively to His glory.

Adoniram Judson quote

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Adoniram Judson by Vance Christie

I have written a comprehensive biography on Judson entitled Adoniram Judson, Devoted for Life. Much spiritual encouragement and instruction can be gained through the consideration of his outstanding life of service for Christ Jesus.

Copyright 2018 by Vance E. Christie

Christmas gift books

Are you looking for a good Christian book to give someone as a Christmas gift or to enjoy reading yourself on some of the frosty winter evenings to come? If so, I happen to have several good Christian biographies I’d like to recommend to you.

Timeless Stories, God’s Incredible Work in the Lives of Inspiring Christians – This is like a Chicken Soup for the Soul book to encourage and strengthen followers of Jesus. It’s a collection of short, true stories from the lives of outstanding Christians on a variety of key themes such as Family, Prayer, Faith, Service, Adversity, etc. It appeals to adults and youth alike.

Women of Faith and Courage – Women and older girls will appreciate this collection of abbreviated biographies on five prominent Christian ladies: Susanna Wesley, Fanny Crosby, Catherine Booth, Mary Slessor and Corrie ten Boom. Both in the privacy of their own homes and in the public sphere these women served theLord, their families and others with tremendous faithfulness and fruitfulness.   

Hudson Taylor, Gospel Pioneer to China – Taylor’s missionary career was one big adventure from start to finish, and is fascinating to both younger and older readers. His undying concern for those who needed to hear of the Savior and his remarkable faith in God motivated and enabled him to establish the China Inland Mission, through which tens of thousands of Chinese came to faith in Christ. His example quickens our own compassion and faith.

John and Betty Stam, Missionary Martyrs – This book relates the real-life story of two committed Christian young people who first separately, then together served Christ faithfully, and who ultimately sacrificed their very lives in doing so. Their examples have inspired untold thousands to serve Jesus with greater commitment. Older teens and young adults processing the issues of marriage and call to vocational ministry may find this biography especially beneficial.

These next three longer volumes (300+pages) are probably best suited for somewhat older and more serious biography readers. They’re ideal for readers who are ready to be benefited by more substantive Christian biography.

David Brainerd: A Flame for God – Brainerd was a pioneer missionary to Colonial American Indians. He persevered through marked difficulties and discouragements in his ministry, which was crowned with a remarkable bona fide revival among theIndians to whom he ministered. This book is full of citations from Brainerd’s private diaries, which reveal the passionate devotional spirit with which he served the Lord.

Adoniram Judson: Devoted for Life – Judson was America’s very first foreign missionary and a pioneer missionary to Burma. He and his three successive wives endured staggering hardships in bringing the Gospel to Burma, establishing healthy Christian congregations there and translating the entire Bible into the Burmese language.Their sacrificial accomplishments continue to bear spiritual fruit in that difficult country to this day.

Andrew Murray: Christ’s Anointed Minister to South Africa – Murray was South Africa’s premier preacher, devotional writer and church leader in the latter 1800s and early 1900s. While being a man of seemingly constant action and accomplishment, Murray was also a contemplative individual whose preaching and writing were deeply devotional. Through his prolific writing endeavors he had a worldwide ministry to hundreds of thousands of Christians in his own day, and his books continue to minister to thousands today. Pastors and laymen alike will be inspired by his example.

There are lots of good historic Christian biographies that have been published for younger children and older youth. See Christian Focus Publication’s Trailblazer series (under its CF4Kids imprint), YWAM’s Christian Heroes Then & Now series, as well as similar series by other publishers.

Copyright 2018 by Vance E. Christie

Twice recently I’ve had the opportunity to speak on the subject of God justifying (declaring as righteous) sinful people who trust in Jesus Christ to rescue them from their sin and the divine judgment it deserves. An incident from the ministry of William R. Newell, a popular Bible teacher in the opening decades of the twentieth century, illustrates this profound truth beautifully.

William R. Newell as a younger man

William R. Newell as a younger man

In 1895, at the age of twenty-seven, Newell was invited by Dwight Moody to become the assistant superintendent of Moody Bible Institute under R. A. Torrey. Newell was a gifted Bible teacher, and large audiences flocked to attend the weeks-long, city-wide Bible classes that he taught in Chicago, St. Louis and Toronto.

Once while holding daily noon meetings in the Century Theatre in St. Louis, Newell spoke on Romans 4:5 from the old King James Version of the Bible: “To him that worketh not, but believeth in Him who justifieth the ungodly, his faith is reckoned unto him for righteousness.” After the meeting, Newell was approached by a middle-aged man who introduced himself by saying: “I am Captain G—. You are speaking to the most ungodly man in St. Louis.”

“Thank God!” Newell responded. “What!” the captain exclaimed, “Do you mean you are glad that I am bad?” “No, Newell replied, “but I am certainly glad to find a sinner who knows he is a sinner.” “Oh, you do not know the half!” declared the captain, “I have been absolutely ungodly for years and years and years.” “Did you hear me preach on ‘ungodly people’ today?” Newell asked.

The captain, who was obviously under deep spiritual conviction, proceeded to divulge: “I have been coming to these noon meetings for six weeks. I do not think I have missed a meeting. But I cannot tell you a word of what you said today. I did not sleep last night. I have hardly had any sleep for three weeks. I have gone to one man after another to find out what I should do, and I do what they say. I have read the Bible. I have prayed. I have given money away. But I am the most ungodly wretch in this town. Now what do you tell me to do? I waited here today to ask you that. I have tried everything, but I am so ungodly!”

“Now we will turn to the verse I preached on,” Newell said simply. Placing his Bible in the captain’s hands, he asked him to read the verse aloud.  “ ‘To him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly,’ the captain began, then broke off from his reading and fairly shouted, “There! That’s what I am—ungodly.” “Then this verse is about you,” Newell assured him. “Read the verse again, please,” the evangelist gently persisted.

“ ‘To him that worketh not,’ ” the captain began again. This time Newell stopped him by pointing out: “There, the verse says not to do, and you want me to tell you something to do. I cannot do that.” “But there must be something to do,” the captain stated in distress, “If not, I shall be lost forever.”

William R. Newell as an older man

William R. Newell as an older man

“Now listen with all your soul,” Newell replied. “There was something to do, but it has been done!” He then explained how that God had so loved him, all ungodly as he was, that He sent Christ to die for the ungodly. God’s judgment had fallen on Christ, who had been forsaken by God as He paid the penalty for people’s sins there on the cross. “God raised up Christ,” Newell concluded, “and sent us preachers to beseech men, all ungodly as they are, to believe on this God who declares righteous the ungodly, on the ground of Christ’s shed blood.”

The captain suddenly leaped to his feet and stretched out his hand to the evangelist. “Mr. Newell,” he exclaimed, “I will accept that proposition!” The Lord had enabled him to understand that there was nothing he could do in terms of his own good works to make himself right in the sight of God. Instead, he needed to trust solely in Jesus and His substitutionary death for him on the cross, so his sins could be forgiven and he could be declared righteous in God’s sight through faith in Christ.

Those of us who have been justified (declared righteous) by God through faith in Jesus rightly overflow with praise and thanksgiving to God and Christ for graciously providing us with justification on that basis. Those who have not yet been justified are invited to receive it through faith in Jesus Christ as their personal Savior from sin.

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The above true story concerning William Newell is adapted from R. Kent Hughes’ 1,001 Great Stories and “Quotes” (Tyndale, 1998).

Copyright 2018 by Vance E. Christie