This article is a biography of Andrew Murray.

Source: The Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth, 2017. 4 pages.

A Heart on Fire

The Life of Andrew Murray (1828-1917)🔗

The name Andrew Murray is often more admired in broader evangelical circles than in our own. But possibly no single individual left a bigger spiritual footprint on the subcontinent of Southern Africa than this nineteenth-century pastor, author, and tireless prayer-warrior, who died one hundred years ago. Murray served his own denomination, the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa, for over fifty years.

He wrote more than 240 books and tracts, some of which have been translated into more than a dozen languages. One of his many books was a commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism. His books touched the hearts as far and wide as true Christianity is found.1He also received two honorary doctorates, from the Universities of Aberdeen and Cape Town respectively.

Andrew Murray was born as the second of eight chil­dren on May 9, 1828. The old manse of Andrew and Maria Murray (née Stegmann) stood close to the Dutch Reformed Church of Graaff Reinet, on what was then the frontier of the Cape Colony. It served as a happy haven to many a weary traveler, missionaries especially, making their way by ox wagon from the coast to the interior.2Robert Moffat and David Livingstone found free room and board here. Years later, one of the Murray children would recall that their parental home was above all a place of reverence and respect by everyone and for everyone.

Lord Charles Somerset, British governor at the Cape from 1814-1826, imported several Scottish ministers in an effort to Anglicize the Dutch-Huguenot colonists.3Rev. Andrew Murray Sr. was one of them and arrived in the 1820s. He hailed from Aberdeenshire and was an ardent follower of the Marrow Men. His wife, Maria, was from Huguenot and Lutheran descent.

When the young Andrew was only nine, he was sent back to Aberdeen in Scotland for his education, along with his older brother John.4It was while there that their paths crossed with the famed Scottish preacher Rev. William Burns. The latter’s person and ministry left a deep impact on the two lads. In a letter to John in 1843, he kindly warned the brothers not to linger in their unconverted state too long5

After both earned their MA degrees, they made their way to Utrecht in the Netherlands to learn Dutch and to train for the ministry. It was here that they formed a small prayer group in the spirit of Het Réveil, a nineteenth-century revival movement that blew over from Switzerland at a time when the Dutch state church was firmly caught in the grip of Enlightenment sentiments. It was from Utrecht in November 1845 that Andrew wrote to his parents: “It is with great joy that I can tell you ... your son has been born again.” He told them in the words of the blind man of John 9, who received his sight from Jesus Christ: “I once was blind, but now I see!”6

Arriving back in the Cape, he was immediately sent out beyond the Great River to a small rural village called Bloemfontein to become its first pastor. He served an area of more than 50,000 square miles at a time when lions were still roaming the open veld.7

Constant travelling over vast distances soon affected his health to such an extent that he had to visit England to recover. Being the only pastor of the Dutch Reformed Church in the Free State at the time, he planted several churches and labored tirelessly in evangelizing and catechizing these scattered descendants of seventeenth-century Dutch-Huguenot settlers. During this period, he visited Boer8settlers beyond the Vaal River on nine occasions. He had to suffer a fair bit of Anglophobic suspicion from a segment of the Boers, but persevered in loyalty and love and eventually won their trust.

Murray also played a key role in the negotiations of the Sand River Convention of 1852, whereby the British Government formally recognized the South African Republic. Years later, in 1913 he would be the guest speaker at the inauguration of the Women’s Memorial near Bloemfontein, dedicated to the 27,000 Boer women and children who died in British camps. The key line of his speech illustrates his larger than life impact on South African history: “We have gathered for a celebration of love, suffering love, praying love, conquering love. The monument to be unveiled will be a monument of love...”9One can only thank God for the huge impact Murray had to temper anti-British sentiments among the Afrikaners after the devastation caused by the Anglo Boer war.

By 1859, Murray received a call to Worcester,10nestled among the Hex River Mountains, some 200 miles north of Cape Town. His father had been praying for revival as long as Andrew could remember. It was here in Worcester that the Lord rent the heavens and came down, so that Andrew senior could say like old Simeon: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.” Dominee11Murray (as Worcester’s minister was called) had already left the prayer meeting when a girl stood up offering a verse to sing from the hymnbook. This was unprecedented at the time, but she was granted permission. It was when she suggested: “Come everyone, come to Him. Oh sinners come, why would you hesitate...” and followed it up with a moving prayer that a strange sound like a rumbling noise was heard. Within minutes, everyone was crying out for mercy.12When Rev. Murray arrived at the scene he tried to put a stop to it, saying that God is a God of order, for everyone was praying simultaneously. He was soon convinced, though, that this was a sovereign work of God’s grace, the outpouring of His Holy Spirit upon a dry and thirsty land.

The revival spread to surrounding towns as far as Cape Town and Swellendam and even as far as Bloemfontein. Its impact was so profound that many could clearly recall it half a century later. Sinners were swept into the Kingdom in large numbers and saints were filled with new sense of God’s awesome glory and their holy calling. In fact, these events gave rise to the custom of annual Pentecost prayer meetings, observed in all Dutch Reformed congregations for well over a century.13These annual meetings, taking place every night from Ascension to Pentecost, provided an opportunity for multiple prayers from the congregants, after the minster delivered a meditation on the need for Christ to renew His church. They were also the secret behind a godly and mission-minded core preserved by God in this church federation, long after neo-orthodox and then liberal sentiments made their inroads during the twentieth century.14Rev. Murray accepted a call to Cape Town in 1864, where he served alongside two colleagues. By this time he was regularly chosen as moderator of the DRC’s national synod.15As moderator, Rev. Murray was known to stand up from his chair in respect every time his aging father was addressing the floor. It was also here in Cape Town that Murray became famous for his courageous stand against the liberal theology that threatened to infiltrate his beloved church federation. Rev. Murray had to defend the DRC’s confessional Reformed commitment in a court case, when their attorney fell unexpectedly ill. He delivered a speech of over four hours and won the case!16

From Cape Town, Andrew Murray was called to the scenic town of Wellington where he labored from 1871 until his retirement in 1906. It was during this period that he also labored tirelessly for Christian education and missions. He founded the Wellington Institute and the Huguenot Seminary for the training of teachers and missionaries, and even travelled to America to find young Christian teachers for the burgeoning Christian church in South Africa. It was also due to his expansive domestic travels trumpeting the cause of missions that South Africa became the fifth larg­est missionary sending country in the world by 1900.17It was, in fact, at a mission village near Lake Malawi, started by Murray’s own relatives, that I stumbled upon a pile of throwaway books containing several Andrew Murray titles in Afrikaans.18In retirement, Rev. Murray spent most of his time writing by the ocean at his cottage called Patmos. He died peacefully at the age of 88, in a posture of prayer.

Andrew Murray had his theological flaws. Reformed critics would point to his faith-healing sentiments when he lost his speech due to laryngitis in 1879, his affinity for the Keswick deeper-life movement, and his lack of a robust Calvinistic emphasis on election as a Reformed author. In his earlier years, he was so animated in preaching that he resembled Scotland’s fiery reformer John Knox, who was said to “ding the pulpit into blades.”19His signature gift to Christianity, though, was his ability to draw the ordinary believer into the heavenly presence of a merciful High Priest, almost as soon as you begin to read.

The abiding value of his writings also lies in its ability to make themes like surrendering to Christ, communion with Him, intercessory prayer, humility, brotherly love, and a passion for missions, attractive to the common believer. His first book was published in 1858 and dealt with Jesus’ love for children.20One of his last books was published after he visited the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh in 1910.21He made a strong case that the spiritual life of the local church was at low ebb, and made an urgent call for a new kind of revival wherein the lives of God’s people would be wholly consecrated to Christ in holiness and service. In no other way, argued Murray, would the global church be able to reach the world with the gospel as Edinburgh 1910 had envisioned.

His words proved to be prophetic and are crucially relevant for the church of today. Though some of his writings lack exegetical depth, his unique devotional commentary on Hebrews — The Holiest of All — is a book worthwhile consulting for all serious expository preachers.

The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy that a man of God must be well spoken of, even by outsiders. See 1 Timothy 3:7.It is noteworthy that a man of the caliber of Mohandas Gandhi once recalled a visit to a prayer meeting in Wellington in his autobiography as follows: “It was an assemblage of devout Christians. I was delighted at their faith. I met the Rev. Murray. I saw that many were praying for me. I liked some of their hymns, they were very sweet.”22

A century later, a visitor to the stately old Graaff Reinet manse, now a museum, wrote in the visitor’s book: “Where is the Lord God, the God of Andrew Murray?” In a time of lackluster, fragmented, and receding Christianity in the West, we can only pray that Almighty God would raise up a host of prayer warriors again of the likes of Andrew Murray. To God be the glory!


  1. ^ Having being invited by Egyptian friends to attend a Coptic service in Toronto, I was surprised to notice several Andrew Murray titles on their book table.
  2. ^ Ben Conradie, Andrew Murray na Honderd Jaar (Stellenbosch: CSV Boekhandel, 1951), 8.
  3. ^ His policy backfired. These pastors and their descendants became loyal Afrikaners, leaving a rich spiritual heritage behind them. Several towns in the Colony were named after them.
  4. ^ John Murray and Nicholas Hofmeyr became the first two professors of the first Theological Seminary of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa that opened in Stellenbosch in 1857.
  5. ^  J. du Plessis, Het Leven van Andrew Murray (Cape Town: Zuid Afrikaans Bijbel Vereniging, 1920), 48.
  6. ^ Het Leven van Andrew Murray, 70.
  7. ^  Andrew Murray na Honderd Jaar, 20.
  8. ^ Andrew Murray na Honderd Jaar, 20.
  9. ^ Andrew Murray na Honderd Jaar, 106.
  10. ^ That was three years after he married Emma Rutherford. The Lord blessed them with nine children.
  11. ^ Dutch for “Reverend.”
  12. ^ For a comprehensive account of the revival see Het Leven van Andrew Murray, 204-10.
  13. ^ The Dutch Reformed Church co-pastored by the author in the 1990’s still observed this practice every year.
  14. ^ Six times he was chosen as moderator of the Synod.
  15. ^ Six times he was chosen as moderator of the Synod.
  16. ^  The Judge commented to Rev. Murray: “Few attorneys could have sur­passed you.” Andrew Murray na Honderd Jaar, 48.
  17. ^ See Patrick Johnstone, The Future of the Global Church (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP, 2011), 233. This was mainly due to DRC mission work, and in spite of the fact that its members were greatly impoverished by the Anglo-Boer War.
  18. ^ The Mvera Mission was situated in what was then called Nyasaland, near today’s village of Nkhoma.
  19. ^ Douglas MacMillan, John Knox and the Cleansing of a Nation, Cassette recording of a message delivered at the Skogheim Conference in South Africa, 1991.
  20. ^ Andrew Murray, Jezus de Kindervriend (Cape Town, 1858).
  21. ^ Andrew Murray, The State of the Church — An Urgent Call for Repentance and Prayer.
  22. ^ Mohandas K. Gandhi, Gandhi: An Autobiography (Boston: Beacon Press, 1993), 136. Gandhi also commented on several less favorable exposures to Christianity. He went on to explain why he rejected Christianity, right after commenting on the Wellington visit.

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