Andrew Murray: Another Classic Favorite Christian Who the Church Should Know About
I wrote this paper on April 18, 2008 for my "History and Traditions" class in Graduate School. I wouldn't publish a past assignment unless I thought it was worth the read! This paper gives a little history about Andrew Murray and summarizes some of his most impactful teachings. It closes with a reflection of where I was in my own life in relation to the topic. I am happy to say that now, a few years later, I have, in fact, found a church community in which I DO see a much more balanced representation of Father God, Jesus Christ, and Holy Spirit. It's kind of funny how I went to church my whole life but didn't really find a "real faith" to stand upon until my mid-twenties. I guess I didn't know that what religion had offered me was unfit to fill the void that could only be filled with relationship with God. I hope this paper encourages you! There's got to be at least one sentence in here that will "get ya." :-)
Andrew Murray, His Teachings, and Me
Andrew Murray was much more than an author of devotional writings. Those that met him describe him as a Spirit-filled man of profound wisdom, deep humility, and even explain that he almost glowed with the Holy Spirit (Choy, xiv). He spent over sixty years in the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa, though he would consider himself simply a Christian. He lived from 1828-1917. To his credit are over 200 books on Christian spirituality and ministry. Although all of his books were originally written in Dutch, they were later translated into English and eventually translated into more than 12 foreign languages in his lifetime, alone! His original writings were for the purpose of edifying believers and to build them up in prayer, faith, and love. His later writings focused on sanctification and the lack of the Church’s power on Earth. Not only was he an author and preacher, but a missionary, as well. He founded educational institutions and had a special affinity for the youth. Andrew Murray definitely left a mark on Christianity (http://www.christianitytoday.com).
It was during his theological training in the Netherlands that he experienced his conversion of heart. At 21, he traveled to a remote location in South Africa and worked as the only preacher of a 50,000 square-mile-territory. He soon became ill and had to return to England to rest. When he returned to South Africa he took a position in Worcester and from there accepted a preaching position in Cape Town, later moving on to Wellington. There, he led a holiness revival. Through his preaching and writing he became known internationally (http://www.christianitytoday.com).
Murray has been referred to as possessing “the insight and authority of one of the prophets of olden time” (Du Plessis, 460). He was very involved in the lives of those in his community and would speak boldly to get people involved in the issues of his time.
Murray believed that one of the main problems with the Church was that people were not fully surrendered to God—they were luke-warm and lacked confidence in the anointing of the Spirit. He also spoke to the problem of people’s lack of commitment to prayer. He said of prayer, “God rules the world by the prayers of his saints, that prayer is the power by which Satan is conquered, that by prayer the church on earth has disposal of the powers of the heavenly world” (http://www.christianitytoday.com). His critics included the Reformed Church—who accused him of teaching free will when it is God who wills.
Murray’s writings have reached hundreds of thousands, if not more. Many letters have been preserved from all over the world, wherein people stated their deep gratitude for how his words had touched them so. Anonymous people from all around the world have affirmed Andrew Murray as their spiritual father. A quote from a lady from New South Wales gives a representative glimpse into just how influential Murray’s writings have been. She writes, “‘What I owe to you eternity alone will reveal’” (Du Plessis, 460).
The crux of the message in Andrew Murray’s Absolute Surrender is that as long as we attempt to be something, that God cannot be everything; we must become nothing so that God can become all (Murray, 115). We must come to a place where we realize that this can not be done apart from absolute dependence on God. The secret to the power of all work is to be found in this utter dependence upon the Lord. There are obstacles that we must overcome in order to live this truth, but the first step is to ask God—for our good Father in heaven is pleased to give us good gifts. If God gives us the desire, He will surely be faithful to fulfill that desire. Ultimately, we must live a prayerful life characterized by an intimate trust in God for everything. According to Murray, at the bottom of a genuine faith is helplessness and this is the very root out of which we may live a Spirit-filled life. Just as Paul says that his strength is made perfect in weakness, Murray echoes this same theme throughout the text.
One reason that it is so difficult for many to live a Spirit-filled life is because though we seek God fervently, we continue to live according to our own will. We make our own plans and plan our own work. As we align ourselves with our own ideas of what God wants us to do, we ask Him to come in and bless what we are trying to accomplish—we say that we need His help. We don’t often lay ourselves at our Master’s feet, calling Him our Lord, and offer ourselves as living sacrifices. We are hesitant to approach Him humbly and ask, “Lord—is there anything inside of me that is not according to your will? Is there any part of me that is not fully submitted?” (125).
The Holy Spirit is the director of God’s work upon the Earth but we so often act as if we are the one in charge. We must stand in proper relationship with the Holy Spirit—to give Him the place of honor in all areas of our lives. God has His own plans for the advancement of His Kingdom. It is not our place to determine what those plans are or how they should be carried out, but to be a faithful and obedient servant who offers self to God to be used to do His work, by His power, for His purposes and for His glory (38-39).
“I want to do this but I don’t know how!” That is the response of many. Start this moment and cry out to God in prayer and let Him know this is your desire. Say, “‘My God, I am willing that You should make me willing.’ If there is anything holding you back, or any sacrifice you are afraid of making, come to God now and prove how gracious your God is. Do not be afraid that He will command from you what He will not bestow” (9). God will be faithful to such a plea. You may not feel any different—you may not experience God’s presence or power. You may not even feel as if your prayer is being heard. Just come as you are and know that the Holy Spirit’s work is not always immediately observable—but in time you will see the fruit of your petitions. We, therefore, must learn to wait upon God, expectantly, but with faith that God will make His will known. Too often, due to doubt and impatience, we cry out but then run ahead on our own.
“But God has blessed my ministry!” you declare. God will still use our feeble efforts to bring good out of them—but are we experiencing the kind of blessing and success that gives faith its name—hoping in that which cannot be seen and doing that which seems impossible? Success in ministry is not based upon the popularity, relevance or creativity of our programs and strategies, but on the lasting fruit of transformed lives. Before we jump into our own plans for what we think God should do, let us instead desire to wait upon God to reveal His will. “God can only reveal His will to a heart that is humble and tender and empty. God can only reveal His will in perplexities and special difficulties to a heart that has learned to obey and honor Him loyally in little things and in daily life” (40).
Apart from Christ, true transformation will not occur. Even Christ’s teaching, in and of itself, is not what changes people. It is the work of God’s Spirit in the midst of that teaching—it is Christ—the triune God—that transforms. Consider the disciples, for example. They walked with Jesus for three years, but even at the point of His death, they were not one in heart and soul. They didn’t “get” it. But when we get to Acts, we see a much different group of people. What happened? The Holy Spirit! Jesus said that it was better for Him to go so that the Helper could come. The same Holy Spirit is available to us today—He brings us the wisdom and love of Heaven. “Even as Christ did, one might preach love for three years with the tongue of an angel, but that would not teach any man to love unless the power of the Holy Spirit should come upon him to bring the love of heaven into his heart” (31).
Prayer is essential, for it is through prayer that the Holy Spirit often speaks to us and offers us strength and encouragement. The power of intercession is the way that we might most mightily impact another’s life. It is through intense prayer that the will of the Father will be made known. Prayer is a pathway for intimacy with the Father—and it is the vessel through which power flows. Yet we are far more engaged with our work than we are with prayer! “We believe more in speaking to men than we believe in speaking to God” (46). If we spent more time on our knees, of efforts would be multiplied by the divine grace of God.
Perhaps you have begun your ministry by much prayer and petition, but as Paul asks, are we able to perfect in the flesh what has begun in the Spirit? It is as if we experience the power of God and in our excitement, we run away from the source of our strength. In times of desperation we felt in necessary to be continually connected to God, but in times of blessing and success, we gradually replace relationship with other things and before we know it, we have squelched the Holy Spirit (47). It is an easy thing for us to take our eyes off God and focus them upon ourselves. We can be deceived because the power of the flesh is resilient and even in the earnest and devoted, godly believer, the flesh fights for control and often wins. We give nourishment to the flesh because we try to work according to its strength, asking God for help, instead of coming to God and saying that we can do nothing apart from Him (64). How easily we believe that because we have a God-given desire, that we have what we need to do the job. Though the presence of the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life is permanent, the power to do His work is not. We must be in a state of receiving, moment by moment (77).
When we fall—when we fail—we can know that it was self that we were trusting and not God. If we were truly trusting in Christ, we would not fail, for God is faithful to accomplish His purpose. We don’t fall because we are weak—we fall because we are strong—strong in the flesh. Paul rejoiced in his weakness for the weaker he was, the better off he said he was, for when he was weak, he was strong in the Lord. If we want to be strong and move upward for the Kingdom of God, we must be willing to be weak, and humbly step down (104).
Not only must we admit and embrace out weakness, but we must rest in it, as well. Imagine a child, weak and tired, trembling in the arms of his father. That is the place where he will find deep rest. He will rest, safe and secure. The child does not find faith by trying to convince his heart that somewhere deep down inside, there is faith to get up and “do better.” No, he looks into his father’s face—he listens to his father’s voice. He trusts in the security of his father’s arms. He relies on his father’s love and follows his father’s footprints—walking hand-in-hand, he knows that as long as his father is by his side, all will be well. So—we must come to a place of utter and complete brokenness before God. For “when God breaks you down, when everything begins to grow dim before your eyes, and you see that you understand nothing, then God is coming nigh, and if you will bow down in nothingness and wait upon God, He will become all...That is the beginning of faith—utter despair of self, a ceasing from man and everything on earth, and finding our hope in God alone” (106).
There are many ways in which the principles from Andrew Murray’s book impact me both personally and within my current church. Personally, I’ve grown up in churches that have placed very little emphasis on the person of the Holy Spirit. I don’t feel as if I’ve lived a life by the power of the Holy Spirit. I’ve had a lot of religion and teaching but not much in the way of depending on God. That has changed in the past few years, but was not instigated by the church. In my current church, I’ve actually been struggling quite a bit with feeling frustrated that I’m in a church that lacks the power of the Holy Spirit. We study the Bible, have workshops, serve, and do a variety of other “good” things—but I can’t help feeling as if we are really lopsided in the area of embracing the work of the Holy Spirit. Murray says that when our lives are filled with the Spirit we will live a life of peace and power. I don’t see many lives around me—including my own—that could be primarily characterized using those adjectives. I believe very strongly that Murray is totally onto the problem of the church today (even though he wrote this in the 1800s) and that his proposed solution is exactly what’s needed. Murray states,
“God has called the church of Christ to live in the power of the Holy Spirit, and the church is living for the most part in the power of human flesh, and of will and energy and effort apart from the Spirit of God…If the church will return to acknowledge that the Holy Spirit is her strength and her help, and if the church will return to give up everything, and wait upon God to be filled with the Spirit, her days of beauty and gladness will return, and we shall see the glory of God revealed among us” (83).
I want to live this kind of Spirit-empowered life. I am trying to. I feel like I keep coming to the end of my self over and over and over again. At times I feel a sense of total peace and can almost literally feel God’s grace and love and power washing over me. But then I feel like I fall from a mountain top into a deep, dark valley. Peace is replaced with fear—and I feel a sense of doubt, anxiety, confusion, and exhaustion. I don’t know how to stay in God’s presence and power moment by moment. I keep thinking it is something that I have to “do” but it seems, according to Murray, that the very opposite is true. I don’t “do” anything but lay myself at God’s feet and receive. I just don’t know how to receive, sometimes, I guess.
Murray makes a statement that I feel perfectly describes where I am at with this. He says, “A man sometimes tries and tries to be dependent upon Christ, but he worries himself about this absolute dependence; he tries and cannot get it. But let him sink down into entire restfulness every day” (116). I sometimes feel myself sinking and then realize that I’m floating—and other times I sink and struggle and feel myself drowning under the heavy waves.
One thing that makes this such a difficult struggle for me is that I feel like the church body around me is caught in the same struggle—the same mess. In fact, I’m not even sure many of them realize that there is a problem to start with—they just think that this must be what the Christian journey is like. So I’m trying to exhort and encourage and move people towards something that I, myself, need help with! I’m staying at my current church for now because I’m doing an internship there—but I think that once my internship is over, I need to find a community that embraces all three persons of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit will work in me—I feel confident of this—but He also works through others and therefore, I feel it is important to be in a community in which the Spirit is able to really work through the body.
One thing I know I can do is to continue to focus on my relationship with Christ and to keep in constant prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to help me in these struggles. Though it is not my current experience on a consistent basis, I look forward to a time where I will not be toiling in such continual exhaustion. A Christian’s life is to be marked by joy and I realize that over the past several years of difficult circumstances, joy has really been lacking in my life. I need to be in a position where I can receive that joy from the Lord on a continual basis—regardless of life circumstances. The joy of the Lord will be my strength. I don’t want my joy to come from the work that I do for God—but from God, Himself.
Also, thinking of ministry as a vocation, I don’t want the work I do to come in between me and Christ—I want it to be fruit that results from my relationship of intimacy with Him! Murray claims that the true root of discipleship is that self must be ignored and its every claim rejected (52). I don’t want to be just a “Christian” but to be a genuine disciple of Christ. It is not an easy thing to ignore self—but I guess since I at least have the desire—that means that God gave me that desire. And God would not give me a desire if He did not have a way to fulfill it! My hope is in that which I can not yet see. Murray claims that at the bottom of faith is helplessness, so I must be in a perfect position for my faith to grow because I feel completely inadequate and helpless. Thank goodness that my trust is in a God that is faithful—for He promises that He will complete the work He has begun until the day of Jesus Christ.
Choy, Leona. Andrew and Emma Murray: An Intimate Portrait of Their Marriage and Ministry. Golden Morning Publishing: Winchester, Virginia. 2000.
Douglas, W.M. Andrew Murray and His Message: One of God’s Choice Saints. Baker Book House Company: Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1981.
Du Plessis, J. The Life of Andrew Murray of South Africa. 1919.
Internet Source. “Andrew Murray.” http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/special/131christians/murray.html
Internet Source. “Life of Andrew Murray.” http://www.worldinvisible.com/library/murray/absolutesurrender/contents.htm
Andrew Murray, His Teachings, and YOU!
I'd love to know if this Hub impacted you in anyway. Was there anything from Murray's life or teachings that jumped out at you? Please feel free to leave comments!