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.”
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’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.
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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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
The following response to my recent Andrew Murray post is shared anonymously with permission. Thanks for joining me in praying for this ministry couple and their cherished son. VEC
“I am so deeply grateful for these reminders of God’s gracious patience with us and our children. I am a parent first, but Pastor second, who has a wayward son. He is the eldest of 5, and until recently has had a softness toward the things of the gospel, but no real fruit of salvation that we have seen. In recent months he has told us that he wants to have ‘fun’ with friends and doesn’t want to concern himself with God or church. Our heart breaks for him. My wife and I are deeply in prayer for him. Your article has been a tremendous reminder of God’s grace toward sinners. Thank you.”