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.)
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.
“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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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