There are some books worth reading a number of times, so when flying to New Zealand recently I took along one such, Dr. Andrew Murray’s biography by Leona Choy, ‘Apostle of Abiding Love.’ I re-enjoyed it so much as to motivate me to share some of its gems with you .
My own encounter with Murray came as a result of a missions awakening in our metro in the 1980’s, stirred up by American David Bliss promoting Murray’s ever-relevant burden for prayer, revival and missions. It was akin to my ‘new birth’ in terms of life-changing impact. As a result of this move of God’s Spirit, I was privileged to head up a part-time missions school for some twenty years, resulting in missionaries being sent out by local churches nationally, into Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Far East, South America, etc.
I share some snippets from Choy’s book. We’ll divide these under the three words of our title, viz. ‘apostles,’ ‘love’ and ‘abiding.’
- APOSTLES. Andrew Murray led the pack by example. His early days in the Free State were often spent in open-air gatherings surrounded by tents and wagons, with moonlight and candles for Bible reading and hymn singing. He was a pioneer missionary in every way (‘apostle’ essentially = ‘sent one’). You see, mission is not about church offices/officers but ground-roots disciple-making/disciple-makers. Contrast this with our contemporary ‘apostles,’ only five-star hotels and guaranteed mass gatherings with ticket sales will do for them! In a biblical sense, every believer is a missionary and every local ekklesia a mission-station, locally and to the ends of the earth. Our local house church regularly invites pioneer missionaries to our Sunday gatherings in order to stir up the fire of Jesus’ ‘Great Commission’ [Mt. 28:16-20]. We also endeavour to be faithful intercessors for and encouragers of missionary individuals and families. Long ago Murray concluded, ‘Holding this conviction – a conviction that has been gathering during these past forty years of my life, you will not take it amiss in me, standing as I do upon the verge of the eternal world, when I give expression to my immovable assurance that unless and until this supreme duty is more deeply felt, more powerfully realized, and more implicitly obeyed, not only by the individual but by the Church at large, we are only playing at missions, deceiving our own selves, slighting the command of our blessed King, and expending in all manner of fruitless struggle the power, the means, and the abilities which should be devoted with undivided enthusiasm to the spiritual subjugation of the nations.’ You and I choose to be mission fields or equipping stations!
- LOVE. The other matter that loomed large in Murray’s life was God’s supreme love for him in Christ and, in return, his love for God and others. An intimate prayer jotted down on a back page of his notebook read, ‘Infinite God: Make me empty and fill me of Thy Holy Spirit and love, full to overflowing, that then this weary world may see and drink. Full of Thy love to me: full of love to Thee: full of love to them: full, myself, of love, of loving kindness to everyone.’ Audiences in Europe and America were impressed with Murray’s humility and graciousness. Even his critics admired his Christ-like bearing as he responded to them. It was written of him, ‘As the tree that bears the most fruit bends lowest and almost breaks under its own weight, so the holier he grew in advancing years and the more famous he became, the humbler he appeared and the more his very face shone with the glory within.’ A close friend wrote, ‘I saw him five months before his death, and his venerable face shone like Alpine mountains with the glow of the setting sun, so radiant, so benignant with the purity within.’ Back to earth: the only thing I have in common with Murray at this point of my life is age! I claim no special gifts or godliness, but I do long for, even if I die in obscurity (I’ve made peace with that), just a tiny fraction of my mentor’s experiential progress in the pursuit of God’s love and grace amid the nitty-gritty of daily life. Just before his death he said, ‘The great and wonderful God wants to live out His Life in us. He can do so only as we dwell in love. We can dwell in love only as we live out His life in us, when we are fully yielded to Him…’
- ABIDING. It was Murray’s passion that all God’s children be led into the secret of ‘unbroken communion’ with Jesus. Any work or ministry should flow out of that total conviction, belief and practice. In 1871 Murray accepted an invitation to a small country congregation in Wellington, Cape. Many in his Cape Town congregation were shocked that he was prepared to leave the glitter of the city at age forty three when he was so much ‘on his way up’ in his denomination. Murray obeyed the Lord’s voice, and it was the very quiet, contemplative country-life in Wellington that led him a truer intimacy with God and the writing of his many books to bless the Church world-wide. There, with his home looking out on the vineyards bordering Wellington, God pruned and cut back his labours, enabling him to bear even more fruit (think of his influential book ‘The True Vine,’ based on Jesus’ profound teaching in Jn. 15 . I am sure that the busier and harder the Christian life today, the more we need quiet moments and places to renew and refresh us. Recently, out of the blue, a very gracious Christian friend blessed us with airline tickets to visit our children and grandchildren in New Zealand, whom we hadn’t seen for five years. It was a marvelous time for Melanie and me to rest and re-connect with our family in the earthiest and yet holiest ways! We were also able to have fun and commune with a house church family who emigrated a few months ago. For me personally it was a time of quiet, reading, research, reflection and rejuvenation! Returning to Murray, whenever he and his family passed through some joyful or painful experience, they saw it as a doorway to new growth and service. Thus it was when one of the Murray babies, only eight months old, died just before their departure to England in 1866. Later, when their two older daughters were abroad, two more little ones, Fanny and Willie, died in the same year from ill-health. Andrew had to console his absent children in Holland, as well as himself, his wife and other children. How could he and his family cope with all this amid their busy lives?
[Western Cape Vineyard]
Through ‘abiding as branches in the true Vine,’ Jesus Christ [Israel was meant to be a vine of blessing to the nations but failed miserably because of her constant reversion to law-keeping and idolatry]. Why is it that I, and many like me, struggle so to get this ‘abiding’ right? For years I missed it, until I became assured of Christ’s life within me by faith-union alone [cf. Gal. 2:20/NRSV, ‘and it is longer I who live, but it is Christ who likes in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in (footnote ‘the faith of’ ) the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’]. If Murray could so restfully abide, why not you and me? As a teen struggling to follow Jesus, we used to sing a song which apparently was Murray’s favourite at his conventions across the world, ‘Moment by moment I’m kept in his love; Moment by moment I’ve life from above; Looking to Jesus till glory doth shine; Moment by moment, O Lord, I am Thine!’
“Father, in your great and tender mercy make us ‘apostles of abiding love.’ We pray this in your Son’s strong and faithful name!”
- Scotsman Andrew Murray (1828-1917) was an exceptional South African Christian writer, preacher, teacher and missionary pioneer. He and his brother John trained at the University of Aberdeen and then Utrecht in the Netherlands. They both opposed the rationalism of their time and pursued personal holiness. Andrew was privileged to experience a powerful spiritual awakening in 1860 while pastoring in nearby Worcester. He founded the YMCA in 1865, the SA General Mission and many other missionary enterprises. He wrote much about the ‘Inner Life’ as the foundation for any missions enterprise. His books became world-renowned and are still popular among serious Christians today. From the Worcester revival, missionaries were sent into Africa, the Anglo-Boer War concentration camps in Bermuda and India, etc. Of those POW’s in the camps, 150 committed themselves to missionary training. The Murray family became renowned as one of the godliest – one guest commented that meals around their large family table were ‘like Holy Communion.’ [cf also W.M. Douglas’ ‘Andrew Murray & His Message’]
- As a result of Murray’s daily speaking engagements year in and year out, his voice broke down totally for two years (1897-1899). This forced him into quiet retreat at home and abroad. It also led into his inquiry into divine healing. After the two years, his voice was miraculously healed, never to trouble him again!
- A sea-side family vacation near tranquil Hermanus many years ago became life-changing for me in terms of the Spirit-filled life: courtesy Murray’s ‘The Believer’s Full Blessing of Pentecost.’ Recommended reading!