Who was Andrew Murray? Many know he was a minister and a prolific Christian writer from the 19th Century. Few know about his inner struggles with wanting to experience the Lord in a deeper way or his frustration with not seeing the lives of others changed by faith in Christ.
You may have a few of his books on your shelf. Books like: Abiding in Christ, Absolute Surrender, Waiting on God, With Christ in the School of Prayer, Divine Healing, and sixty more titles. Perhaps you’ve never read them, or it’s been awhile.
Let me introduce you to Andrew Murray’s story. It will deepen your appreciation for what he came to learn about the role of the Holy Spirit in his relationship with God. You might even want to read one of his books!
It was an April evening in Worcester, South Africa. The year? 1860. Andrew Murray, the newly appointed minister for the Dutch Reformed Church, was sharing a message at another church when someone burst into the sanctuary, insisting that Murray come with him. Something disturbing was happening.
Andrew Murray wasn’t sure what to think, but he excused himself.
When he got closer to the brightly white-washed church building he could hear voices crying out in a cacophony of sound. Murray entered the small hall near the sanctuary and chaos met him.
Sixty young people, both white and colored, were kneeling together in the room, praying, it would seem. But what was all the hand-waving, jerky body movement and excessive emotionalism? Some were crying out to God in loud voices, while others wept, and still others confessed sins and asked God for mercy.
Murray was new to the congregation and wasn’t certain if this was something usual, but in his eleven years of ministry he had never seen anything so, so disturbingly out of control. He cried out, “Silence! I am your minister.” He was ignored and if anything, it grew louder.
He noticed one of the deacons kneeling and praying along with the youth, so he tapped him on the shoulder and motioned him to the back of the small hall.
“What is happening?” he asked the deacon.
The deacon explained how, during the meeting, when they were singing hymns and praying, one of the colored girls (about fifteen years old) rose and asked if she could suggest a hymn and pray. This was unusual and his first response was to say, “No.” But…something told him he should allow it. She then gave out the hymn number and prayed a heart-felt prayer. That was when they heard it.
“Heard what?” Murray asked him.
“The wind,” he said. “We could hear it in the distance, and it came nearer and nearer and as it did the entire hall was filled with prayer.”
Murray called out again, this time louder, “People, I am your minister, sent from God. Silence!” But there was no stopping the noise. They continued praying and calling on God for mercy and forgiveness. Murray suggested they sing a hymn. He opened up the hymnal and began to sing, not fully aware that the name of the hymn was “Aid the Soul that Helpless Cries”, for he was too intent on controlling the emotionalism of the room. This, also, had no affect.
He threw up his arms, “God is a God of order and here everything is confusion.” And with that he left the hall and returned to his other meeting, while the deacon returned to kneel and pray.
After this, people continued gathering in the evenings. Not only young people, but young and old, colored and white, rich and poor. They were moved to prayer, repentance and crying out to God for mercy with intense emotion and expression. Within a few nights, as the crowd grew, they had to move to the hall of the local school.
As their minister, Murray insisted on opening in prayer. He was still skeptical about what was taking place, with all the emotionalism and odd behavior, which seemed to go against his understanding of God and the Scriptures. But after one of the meetings a man from Worcester came up to him because he could see that Murray was concerned for his congregation.
“Pastor,” he said, “you should not try to put a stop to this. This same thing is happening in America when I was there, and is happening in Europe, as well.”
Murray realized that this must be the revival his father, Andrew Murray Sr, had been praying for. Young Murray had grown up with his father reading accounts of revivals that had taken place through the centuries in Scotland, where his father was from. But this, this was not how he’d pictured it.
What helped convince him that what was happening in Worcester was from God, was the fruit it bore in the people. Their lives were changing. He saw it in how they showed love to others, how hungry they were for God’s word and how passionate they were to share the gospel. Waves of new believers and awakened believers filled the churches and the local theological seminary. The ‘awakening’ kept spreading into other communities in the Cape colony and even into some of the indigenous tribes.
It finally reached Murray’s father’s church in the town of Graaf-Reinit, six months later. Andrew Murray, Sr was sixty-seven years old and had prayed for revival every Friday afternoon for thirty-six years! Murray, himself, at the age of thirty-two, couldn’t help but be affected by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on South Africa in 1860 and 1861.
“May not a single moment of my life,” he wrote later, “be spent outside the light, love and joy of God’s presence. And not a moment without the entire surrender of myself as a vessel for Him, to fill full of His Spirit and His love.”
But before coming to Worcester, he had spent eleven years struggling in the wilderness.
Murray was twenty when he was sent by the Dutch Reformed Church to minister to the Boers (South African Dutch farmers) who left the ‘civilization’ of Cape Town to settle in the Orange Free State of north-east South Africa. A remote wilderness filled with lions, hyenas and warring African tribes. He visited people on the remote farms and in small communities within a 50,000 square mile radius, by horseback – for eleven years!
At first, he was excited and passionate about ministering to those who had little understanding of God and hadn’t heard the gospel for twenty or more years. The Boers were a tough and independent people. They had to be to survive. They hated the British who had taken over South Africa from the Dutch some thirty years earlier. The British brought with them their anti-slavery laws (which William Wilberforce and others had fought so hard for) and the Boers were all for slavery, since they needed the Africans to work their farms.
Murray found himself in an area full of tension. Political tension between the Boers and the British, who had settled in the Free State and tribal tensions with the Africans who were pillaging, killing and stealing livestock from other tribes and the Boers.
He had his hands full as a young minister.
A strong sense of purpose and love for the people emerged during those years. He had a heightened awareness of their spiritual destituteness and the need to establish believers in their faith. Where his church was situated, in the town of Bloemfontein, he established classes for new converts, whether they were Dutch, British or African.
Without other spiritual support (no other ministers in the area) he learned to lean on the Lord in a deeper way than ever. He saw the Bible, not as theological truths alone, but filled with promises from the Father to His children. He knew the key was abiding in Christ while living a life of faith, trust and obedience. At least, he knew it in his head.
Murray struggled with doubt, frustration and the lack of power in his ministry. There was no real spiritual growth in the people he ministered to, despite all his efforts and prayers. He was obsessed with the need to do something for God’s kingdom and felt it was up to him to bring change, but he was burning himself out.
Then, the opportunity to move to the little community of Worcester presented itself. Murray, along with his wife Emma, and their young children left the wilderness and moved to the largely Dutch Reformed town that was sitting on the brink of revival. He had no idea that for years people had walked up to a nearby hillside and prayed; prayed that God would visit them and awaken their hearts.
After the revival Andrew Murray was never the same. His journal accounts after 1860 were marked with confidence in the promises of Scripture, in the power of the Holy Spirit at work, and in the power and privilege of prayer.
He took that new-found confidence and visited Bloemfontein where he’d ministered all those years before. He spent a few months preaching and praying with the people there. Something had changed. Murray had changed. What he’d been unable to do in the eleven years previous, the Lord accomplished through him in a very short time for revival came to the people of that community.
Instead of striving to serve God and make things happen, Andrew Murray began to realize the importance of partnering with the Holy Spirit and recognizing what God is already doing; then being obedient to His instruction.
“God has a plan for His Church upon earth. But alas! we too often make our plan, and we think that we know what ought to be done. We ask God first to bless our feeble efforts, instead of absolutely refusing to go unless God go before us.”
The reason Andrew Murray seemed such a man of mystery and never included anything about himself in any of his writings was because he wanted his life to be all about Jesus Christ and not about Andrew Murray!
Andrew Murray was active in ministry in South Africa for sixty-eight years. During that time, he was the pastor of four different churches and personally involved in missions, starting a seminary for women and a missionary institute for training and equipping ministers for South Africa. He was also the moderator for the Dutch Reformed Synod. He and his wife Emma had nine children, however two died very young.
Murray was also very involved with the Keswick Convention and holiness and deeper life movement spreading through Europe and North America. He became a popular conference speaker in his later years. Murray was also a prolific writer with 240 published works, including seventy books on topics of prayer, the Holy Spirit, abiding in and surrender to Christ, the kingdom of God, intercession, waiting on God, healing and mission work. His books have been translated into over a dozen languages and many are in print to this day.
A big thank you to the following resources:
Vance Christie’s book, Andrew Murray Christ’s Anointed Minister to South Africa
What did you appreciate about Andrew Murray’s story? And let me know if you’ve ever read any of his books.