I have long enjoyed reading biographies because there is so much to learn from other people’s experiences. And I am particularly interested in discovering the particular facts and circumstances of the people who wrote the books which have profoundly impacted me. That is why I have just finished reading a biography about one of those authors whose writings have shaped my thinking about Christian spirituality. That author is Andrew Murray (1828-1917) and the biography is Andrew Murray: Christ’s Anointed Minister to South Africa (Christian Focus Publications:2015), by Vance Christie. This excellent biography describes the life and ministry work of a faithful servant of Christ the Lord.
I will not here attempt to summarize the biographical outline which Christie has organized and filled in so well regarding Murray. I strongly suggest you get and read the book yourself and learn about Murray’s remarkable and fruitful life of service to God. What I think would be preferable is pass along a few pertinent observations about what I have learned about Andrew Murray from Vance Christie’s diligent labor in writing. May this short summary adequately describe and illustrate the content in this book and convey its value.
In his published books Murray made few references to his personal life or even that of his own experiences in walking with God. His books were designed to teach, admonish and encourage believers to pursue God and learn to walk in all his ways, according to the full council of Scripture. Unlike so much of the writing done by Christian authors today, Murray focused like a laser beam on the meaning of the words of Scripture and their implications for the shape and concrete manifestations of obedience in the lives of those who identify themselves as Christians. This was done purposely because his aim was to always point people to the Lord Jesus Christ and to avoid, as much a possible, giving his hearers (or readers) the impression that his spiritual experiences should be esteemed as definitely instructive.
Those around him, his family, his many friends, those he mentored and pastored all reported a remarkable consistency in his conduct, words and attitude. This is quite remarkable to me because I have read of many of the “great saints” of the Church who did extraordinarily good for God’s people and wrote remarkably helpful and instructive books exegeting Scripture and clarifying essential theological doctrines. And some of the most famous among them (Luther, Calvin, Jerome, Pope Leo the Great, to name a few) exhibited notable inconsistencies in their conduct towards others—doing and saying things that were rather unkind and unlike the character of Christ. What stands out to me regarding Andrew Murray is that he demonstrated a life of integrity that is rare among prominent leaders in the Church (compared across the history of the Church). This is not to say that he had no faults or never sinned but that he truly was a faithful servant of Christ the Lord and the whole of his life demonstrated that.
Andrew Murray consistently demonstrated concern for people—for their spiritual condition and general welfare. Throughout his years of service, at three different congregations in South Africa, he constantly worked to establish and call people in the churches and community to support missionary work, run and expand schools for education of boys and girls and young people. He and his wife became a father and mother to many young people and mentored and guided them to step up into different forms of service. He always had an eye for identifying the needs of people and dynamic leadership skills to organize practical solutions to address the most basic needs of the community.
Murray had a passion for learning and an appreciation for the strategic use of all forms of knowledge in service to the Kingdom of God. He modeled this and taught others to become educated themselves in order to be able to more effectively serve. He also had passion for truth—for progressively seeking a deeper understanding of it himself, for persistently teaching and proclaiming it to others and for working with gentleness with people so they could come to the knowledge of the truth in God through the Lord Jesus. This passion for truth also included giving organizational and keen pastoral leadership to defending historical Christian orthodoxy and enforcing it within his own denomination (Dutch Reformed Church).
Another remarkable characteristic of Murray was his openness to Christians from other denominations. Through his own example and the strategic use of his enormous social influence among the people there in South Africa he was able to pioneer an openness to likeminded evangelicals. He identified himself as being evangelical—defined mainly by the necessity of being spiritually regenerated and of service to God either locally or in missions’ work coming from restored spiritual relationship with God rooted in submission to the authority of Scripture. He considered himself first a Christian, a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, and secondarily a member of the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC). He was willing to partner with and even actively support the ministry work of Pastors and missionaries from other denominations and Christian organizations while also vigorously advocating for renewal within the DRC. He understood this partnering to be part of being a faithful Servant of Christ the Lord in the Kingdom.
Finally, Andrew Murray was dedicated to serving the living God regardless of what it cost him personally. He truly wanted God’s will to be done and to spur and call as many people as possible to repentance and the practice of true faith in God through Jesus Christ. To that end he not only pastored congregations but went on extensive trips to do the work of an evangelist in churches, cities and towns around South Africa.
Murray is best known today because of his books—especially those on prayer. His writing in Dutch and English became an essential part of his ministry work for God and he continued this until he died. Christie notes that
“Murray’s prolific writing output, especially through the final thirty-three years of his life, was astounding. Rev. D.S.B. Joubert’s chronologically-arranged ‘Bibliography of Andrew Murray’s Published Works’ comprises nearly 240 leaflets, booklets and longer books. Sixteen of those were produced during the twenty-six years from 1858 to 1883 while all the rest were published in the thirty-five years from 1884 to 1918. . . . Through his writing ministry Murray was able to reach a world-wide audience consisting of hundreds of thousands of individuals. Besides being published originally in Dutch and English, during his lifetime his works were translated and circulated in thirteen other languages, including French, German, Italian, Spanish, Swedish, Danish, Russian, Yiddish, Arabic, Armenian, Chinese, Japanese, Telugu and Malayalam.” (Christie, Andrew Murray: Christ’s Anointed Minister to South Africa, pp.331-332)
There are many more observations that I could record here, based upon the telling of his life in Vance Christie’s biography, but I could not adequately represent all of it in such a short essay as this. It has been my pleasure to think about this man of God and his extraordinary life of service to God, in the churches and to his broader community. I commend to the readers this book about Andrew Murray in order to learn about him. And then, if any of you have not yet read any of Murray’s writings, to begin to do so.
I have discovered in reading his writing this: To those who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness and truth his writings contain a bountiful feast. For they were written by a man who walked in obedience by faith with the Holy Spirit and demonstrated the life of Christ in all that he did. Andrew Murray was a faithful servant of Christ the Lord and his example is worthy of careful study and imitation.