I had supposed that conversion was due to the operation of the Holy Spirit — a change wrought without the co-operation, almost without the knowledge, of the subject of it. Now I found that the pressure of divine grace on all human hearts is constant; God’s will to save is always there; Christ stands at the door of every one and knocks; but the decisive point is where the will awakes, opens the door and lets Him in, responds to the infinite and universal love of God, yields to the steady though gentle insistence of redeeming grace.
— R. F. Horton
The two brothers appear to have left Scotland in June, 1845, in order to prosecute their studies at the Academy of Utrecht (The Academy of Utrecht became a State University in 1878). Holland was very much of a *terra incognita at the time. The young men applied to Rabbi Duncan (*Dr. John Duncan (1796-1870), professor of Hebrew in the Free Church College, Edinburgh) for introductions to men of note in the theological world, but the famous professor of Hebrew confessed that he was acquainted with nobody in the Netherlands. Their uncle said that he would gladly accompany them and see them settled in their new sphere of work, but he felt that he would be of little service, since he knew but two individuals in Holland. And so the brothers had for the first time to make their own way and shape their own lives, without the advice or aid of interested friends.
They reached Utrecht towards the end of the first session, and shortly before the commencement of the summer vacation. A fellow-student, N. H. de Graaf, who subsequently became one of Andrew’s most intimate friends, has fortunately left us a vivid account of their appearance on the scene. It is necessary to premise, as will be pointed out more fully later on, that the rationalism which had infected Dutch theology was greatly deplored by a circle of earnest-minded men, to which belonged the poet Izaak da Costa and his close friend (like himself, a convert from Judaism) Abraham Capadose. These men would visit circles of pious people at various places, and give “readings” for edification on certain portions of Scripture. Mr. de Graaf’s reminiscences run as follows —
A Fair was being held in Utrecht, and it was an excessively busy time. And yet Utrecht was lonely, for the members of our circle were for the most part absent from town. At the house of Madame van Twijll van Serooskerken at the extremity of the new canal, near the plantation, Dr. Capadose was to hold a reading. I proceeded thither from my home in Booth Street. Arrived at St. Jan's Churchyard, I saw two youths in somewhat strange garb walking ahead of me. Their countenances were cheerful, their demeanour unassuming. Was it possible that the two youthful strangers were visiting Utrecht to view the Fair? That would be a pity. But no, they walked straight on, across the little Stammers Bridge, behind St. Pieter, along the new canal, yes, to the very end, and actually entered the house that was also my destination. There, at the entrance to the rooms, I found P. A. van Toorenenbergen talking to them in Latin. He introduced me to the two strangers. They were John and Andrew Murray, newly arrived from Aberdeen, in order to study here and become ministers at the Cape. What a surprise! No Fair-trippers, then, but Cape brethren with Scotch blood. From that evening up till now, and for ever, we became friends and brothers.
During the early days of their sojourn we took them round as much as possible in order to show them the beautiful environs. Among these trips was a drive over the Amersfoort Hill. The view of Amersfoort from the hill-top was sure to strike them! But how sadly we were disillusioned on halting, if you please, upon the very summit, to hear Andrew ask, “And where is now your hill?” “Where?... why, we are standing upon it this minute!” “Oh!” “I wonder,” so ran my thoughts, “whether they will find anything exalted in this country.”
Our first gathering for mutual edification took place on the following Sunday, when we met for tea at the rooms of P. A. van Toorenenbergen. Discussion was carried on in Latin, for the Murrays spoke only English and very imperfect Dutch, though John assured us, “As ik jong was, ik sprak de Hollandsch as de jongeling van de straat” (When I was young I spoke the Dutch as the youth of the street). The reading and discussion of a portion of Scripture was in Latin as well, likewise the prayer. Whether the late Cicero and our still living Professor Bouman would have found our Latin classically pure, or even intelligible and endurable, is open to doubt. But it was sufficient that we understood each other.
It was well for the brothers that they found congenial Christian companionship so quickly. The religious condition of Holland was deplorable. A wave of rationalism originating in Germany had spread over the country. A latitudinarian spirit, fostered by the State, which sought to mediate between conflicting views, pervaded the universities (or, as they were then styled, academies). The pulpits were occupied by men who had to a large extent discarded evangelical doctrine. It is true they were bound, by their subscription to the formularies of the Dutch Reformed Church — the Netherlands Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of the Synod of Dort, — to preach the Calvinistic faith therein set forth; but the formula of subscription was ambiguous and was variously interpreted. Indeed, about a decade previously there had raged concerning this very question a violent controversy, the embers of which were not yet quenched. It was the great Quia—or—quatenus struggle between the orthodox party, who maintained that in subscribing to the formularies the signatory promised his adhesion because (quia) the doctrines they contained were in accordance with the Word of God, and the heterodox or liberal party, who maintained that subscription implied no more than concurrence in so far as (quatenus) the doctrines accorded with Scripture. “But little belief,” says a Dutch historian, “was still attached to the characteristic doctrines of the Church, and those which were preached were sadly diluted. The sermons of many breathed a spirit of rationalism and were merely enlargements of the theme ‘De deugd, o ja, ik vind ze schoon’ (How beautiful is virtue fair). The religious life of the community was feeble and lacking in vitality. Divine service was still attended, the sacraments celebrated, the functions of elders and deacons duly fulfilled, but for the rest religion was a Sunday concern without the least influence on heart and life. Conversion was an antiquated word. Faith denoted acquiescence in certain religious truths. The Holy Spirit appeared to have been replaced by the spirit of the age. The greatest tolerance was displayed towards all manner of strange views, and men of all schools made this ‘broadmindedness’ their boast.”
Against this state of affairs an influential reaction set in which had its rise in Switzerland and was due strangely enough, to the labours of two Scotch laymen, Robert and James Haldane. The spiritual condition of Switzerland was, if possible, even more deplorable than that of Holland. Moved with pity for the lifeless condition of the Church which had been founded by Calvin, the brothers Haldane visited Switzerland for the purpose of undertaking evangelistic work, and inaugurated a series of Bible readings for the theological students at Geneva. Among their most prominent converts and co-workers were Merle d’Aubigné, the learned historian of the Reformation, Frédéric Monod, the eloquent preacher, and the saintly César Malan. The influence of these men penetrated to the Netherlands, and kindled the expectations of those who grieved in secret over the decay of religion, and were hoping and praying for “seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord.”
The Revival movement in Holland, where it was known by its French name of Réveil, originated not in ecclesiastical but in literary circles, and was largely confined to the aristocratic and upper middle classes. Its leaders were Willem Bilderdijk, the chief Dutch poet of the nineteenth century, and his pupils Izaak da Costa and Abraham Capadose, both converts from Israel. More than twenty years before the arrival of the Murrays in Utrecht, da Costa had issued a powerful protest against the religious degeneracy of the times, which he entitled Grievances against the Spirit of the Age. So severe and unmeasured were his denunciations that a storm of indignation broke over his head. Preachers denounced him from their pulpits; lampoons and pamphlets innumerable were launched against him; scurrilous letters reached him anonymously through the post. His house had to be guarded by special police. Friends shunned his company or went over openly to the ranks of his enemies. But da Costa did not protest in vain. He gathered beside himself a few warm friends, of whom the most eminent was Groen van Prinsterer — jurist, historian and statesman. Da Costa and Groen, together with the philanthropist Heldring, the poet Nicolaas Beets, Dr. Capadose and others, formed the circle known as “Christian Friends,” whose gatherings in Amsterdam during the decade 1845 to 1854 kept alive the flame of religious fervour in Holland in the dark days of tepid orthodoxy and chill rationalism.
Under the influence of the Réveil some earnest-minded students at Utrecht founded in 1843 the Society known as Sechor Dabar (Remember the Word), whose object and aim it was “to promote the study of the subjects required for the ministerial calling in the spirit of the Revival.” It was from the members of this band that the Murrays received so cordial a welcome. The five friends who had united to establish the new society were N. H. de Graaf, H. C. G. Schijvliet, D. Gildemeester, P. A. van Toorenenbergen and J. A. Ruys. The meetings of Sechor Dabar were held once a week in rotation at the rooms of each member, who acted as host for the evening. The first three hours were devoted to study and to the discussion of theological subjects. At that time all university lectures, with the exception of those on Dutch literature, were delivered in Latin, and the Society therefore decided to employ that learned tongue in its ordinary discussions. At nine o’clock improvisations and orations were heard, while at ten the session for study ended and the rest of the evening was given over to social intercourse.
Both from motives of economy and for the sake of good example the members of Sechor Dabar resolved from the outset to avoid the use of wine and spirituous liquors, and to drink only coffee, tea and chocolate at their gatherings. This decision exposed them to the scorn and ridicule of their fellow-students, and the band was promptly dubbed the “Chocolate Club” and the “Prayer Club.” Dr. Vinke, the most respected professor of theology, was asked in class whether he disapproved of the use of wine at students’ gatherings; and his reply, that he saw no objection to one or two glasses for strengthening the voice, was quoted to rebuke and satirise the proceedings of the “pious circle.” Men refused to sit next to them at lectures, or to rub shoulders with them in coming out of class.
If the attitude of the students towards Sechor Dabar was one of undisguised antipathy, that of the professors was hardly less discouraging. De Graaf says: “We could not boast of any great measure of sympathy from our professors. We must have appeared to them to be des enfants terribles, — too decided, too fanatical. From this you will also gather what impression they made upon us. This at least is certain, that we remained strangers to each other. It was the custom of the professors occasionally to invite those who had attained to the dignity of Candidates of Theology to deliver a popular lecture under the auspices of the Netherlands Bible Society; but to none of us was the honour ever accorded of receiving such an invitation.”
The members of Sechor Dabar devoted much of their time to religious and philanthropic work. On Sundays after the forenoon service they gathered the children of the poorest classes and instructed them in the truths of the Bible. De Graaf speaks of a number of working men who met in his rooms every Sabbath afternoon. The hours which other students gave to recreation were spent in district visiting, and in the endeavour to lead the poor and the outcast to Christ. There was also, as might have been expected, a zealous missionary spirit among the members of the society, and the Murrays were instrumental in the establishment of Eltheto, — a missionary band which met twice a month, and proved to be a plant of vigorous growth, which has been only recently incorporated in the Netherlands Christian Students’ Association.
One can hardly help comparing the men of the Sechor Dabar with another far more famous circle of young men, who met in one of the rooms of Lincoln College, Oxford, more than one hundred years earlier. The leaders of this older band were also two brothers, John and Charles Wesley, and the principles which they professed, and by which they sought to guide their lives, show considerable resemblance to those upon which John and Andrew Murray acted. “This was the problem which they discussed night after night, — By what rules ought a Christian to regulate his life? They tried to map out for each week a sort of railway time-table, having a fixed and definite duty for every moment of the day; and the revision and perfection of their time-tables occupied much of their evenings. As the rumour of what they were doing spread through the colleges, it appealed to the loose-living men around them as a tremendous joke. Dozens of nicknames were coined, but one young gentleman of Christ Church unearthed for them an old name which was destined to become historic. ‘Here is a new sect of Methodists,’ he sneered.” In spite of obvious differences there were many points of similarity between the Oxford and the Utrecht circles. The latter did not, of course, issue in the establishment of a great branch of the Christian Church; but in both we can trace the same spirit of intense earnestness, the same eagerness to live lives of Christian consistency, the same desire to make achievement correspond with profession, the same application to study, the same devotion to high ideals of duty expressing itself in works of mercy, and finally, the same exposure to ridicule and persecution from the side of their fellow-students. It would hardly be too much to say that the Murrays, and like-minded South Africans of the Sechor Dabar circle, were instrumental in saving the Dutch Reformed Church at the Cape from being engulfed by rationalism, and in powerfully promoting by their life and testimony the growth of vital evangelical religion in their fatherland.
The professors whose lectures John and Andrew attended were Bouman, Vinke and Royaards. Professor Bouman was widely known as one of the foremost Latinists of his age, and a stern opponent of the proposal to abolish Latin as medium of academical instruction. When in spite of his protests the movement gained ground, he solemnly warned its advocates that they would have to account for their actions at the last day. Beyond his familiarity with the tongue of Cicero, Bouman seems to have aroused but little enthusiasm. Of his learning there could be no doubt, but his lectures were of the dry-as-dust order. “The learned Bouman,” said Professor Lamers, a later occupant of an Utrecht chair, “may have occasionally, and with extreme caution, called our attention to critical difficulties in the text of the Old or the New Testament, but of questions of the higher criticism, which just then began to show a threatening front, we heard nothing.”
Professor Vinke inspired greater regard than his colleague the Latinist. John Murray spoke of him with respect, though without warmth. Prof, van Oosterzee, another of his students, was of opinion that “his clear, accurate and thoroughly evangelical unfolding of the doctrines of the faith, as well as his instruction in Practical Theology, was eminently adapted to train well qualified pastors and ministers for the congregations of the fatherland.” This may, however, have been merely the pious commendation of a brilliant student who would have learnt something from any professor, however undistinguished. Professor Royaards, famous for his subsequent studies in Canon Law, was best remembered among Cape students by the advice he gave John Murray, “not to allow the Sechor Dabar society to gain too great an influence over him, lest he should expose himself to the danger of fanaticism.” These were the men to whom the theological students looked for spiritual and intellectual enlightenment. “One learnt nothing from their lectures,” was the blunt avowal of one of the students of this period. And to the same effect Andrew Murray: “the lectures here are such that it is almost impossible to get any good from them.” This may have been due in part to the fact that the Latin language still ruled with undisputed sway, but there is no doubt that the professors took their tasks much too easily. “Their theology,” says Dr. van Gheel Gildemeester, “tasted of long Gouda pipes.”
There was among the professors another man who stood in a different category, and whose name was soon to be mentioned with doubt and positive alarm by orthodox thinkers. This was the eminent jurist and philosopher C. W. Opzoomer, who first drew general attention by an anonymous pamphlet, published while he was yet a student at Leyden, in refutation of da Costa’s Grievances. In 1846 Opzoomer was called to the chair of philosophy at Utrecht, where by his learning and eloquence he exercised a profound influence, and drew students from all parts of Holland. The Murrays, since they had completed their preparatory studies, did not require to attend his classes, but later arrivals from the Cape, such as Nicolaas Hofmeyr (subsequently Professor Hofmeyr), testified that they found in the lectures of Opzoomer an enthusiasm which was wholly lacking in his older colleagues. Orthodox students spoke of his class-room as the Dardanelles: they had to sail through it, but they found the passage both narrow and dangerous. Opzoomer was, in short, a rationalist, — or rather, since he was professor of philosophy, an empiricist, — and became one of the fathers of the tendency known in Holland as Liberalism or Modernism. His attitude towards revelation may be gauged by his assertion that “there is no room for miracle, either in the series of natural phenomena or in the fabric of human existence: for every fact, whether in the realm of nature or in the world of humanity, some physical or human cause exists (though, perhaps, as yet unknown) which can account for it.”
Surrounded by intellectual influences such as these, it was well for the brothers that they found a circle of like-minded friends, and were enabled to take so decided a stand on the side of vital religion. On the other hand, the new intellectual atmosphere to which they were introduced, and the friction with minds that viewed Christian truth from another angle than theirs, caused them to scrutinise more closely the foundation upon which their faith in Christ rested. Students who leave the paternal roof to study abroad frequently sever their moorings and find themselves adrift upon sunless seas of doubt. Others, again, who have been reared in piety and nurtured on Bible truth, when thrown upon their own spiritual resources, find occasion amid the uncongenial surroundings for committing themselves anew to the grace of an all-sufficient Saviour. Thus it befell with Andrew Murray. At Utrecht he underwent the great change which he called his conversion, and which made him more definitely the Lord’s. He used to say that he could point to the very house, the very room, and of course the very date, when this change ensued. His conversion was no sudden upheaval, but it was a distinct and complete surrender to Christ and to His claims, — a clear-cut experience from which he dated a new era, and which lay at the back of all the preaching of later years. The news of this event was conveyed to his parents in the following letter —
Andrew Murray to his Parents.
Utrecht, 14th November, 1845.
My dear Parents, — It was with very great pleasure that I to-day (after having been out of town three days) received yours of 15th August, containing the announcement of the birth of another brother. And equal, I am sure, will be your delight when I tell you that I can communicate to you far gladder tidings, over which angels have rejoiced, that your son has been born again. It would be difficult for me to express what I feel on writing to you on this subject. Always hitherto in my letters, and even yet in my conversation, there has been stiffness in speaking about such things, and even now I hardly know how I shall write.
When I now look back to see how I have been brought to where I now am, I must acknowledge that I see nothing. “He hath brought the blind by a way that he knew not, and led him in a path that he hath not known.” For the last two or three years there has been a process going on, a continual interchange of seasons of seriousness and then of forgetfulness, and then again of seriousness soon after. In this state I came here, and as you may well conceive there was little seriousness amid the bustle of coming away. After leaving [Scotland], however, there was an interval of seriousness during the three days we were at sea — our departure from Aberdeen, the sea, recollections of the past, all were calculated to lead one to reflect. But after I came to Holland I think I was led to pray in earnest: more I cannot tell, for I know It not. “Whereas I was blind, now I see.” I was long troubled with the idea that I must have some deep sight of my sins before I could be converted, and though I cannot yet say that I have had anything of that deep special sight into the guiltiness of sin which many people appear to have, yet I trust, and at present I feel as if I could say, I am confident that as a sinner I have been led to cast myself on Christ.
What can I say now, my dear Parents, but call on you to praise the Lord with me ? “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits. Who forgiveth all thine iniquities, who healeth all thy diseases; who redeemeth thy life from destruction, who crowneth thee with loving-kindness and tender mercy.” At present I am in a peaceful state. I cannot say that I have had any seasons of special joy, but I think that I enjoy a true confidence in God. Short, however, as my experience has been, I cannot say that it is always thus. Already have I felt my sins separating between me and my God, and then the miserable consequences, a sort of fear, and the wretched feeling of being held back in prayer by sin.
24th November. — In taking up my pen again, I have again to lament my inability to write on the great subject. Though I can say that my heart at present is warm, yet whenever I begin to write or speak, I fail. I sometimes think how glorious it will be when it shall be impossible to do anything but ascribe praise to Him that hath loved us and washed us from our sins in His blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God. There certainly must be a great change in us before we shall be ready to do that.
Associated as they were with the Réveil and its principles the Hurrays obtained ready access to many of the best families of Holland (*It was from the ranks of these families that the Réveil movement drew many of its most influential supporters), such as the van Boetzelaars, the Herklots and the Waller-Oyens. They had frequent opportunities of visiting the homes of these friends, who were unwearied in their kindness to the strangers from South Africa. Andrew found his way at short intervals to Amersfoort, lying but a few miles east of Utrecht, and spent many pleasant hours under the roof of the parents of his friend Schijvliet. During the vacations the brothers went further afield. On one occasion they made the acquaintance of da Costa, and of Capadose “just returned from Scotland, where he had taken part in the proceedings of the General Assembly of the Free Church.” They also spent a Sabbath at the village of Heemstede, near Haarlem, in order to liten to Dr. Nicolaas Beets, poet and preacher. “We heard him with very great pleasure,” writes Andrew. “He combines eloquence, poetry and true piety. I have not heard such sermons since I came to Holland, — especially a very searching one on the sixth commandment.”
The following letter, written on the eve of his eighteenth birthday, gives some insight into his affairs, both spiritual and temporal —
Andrew Murray to his Parents.
To-morrow will close a year which is certainly the most eventful in my life, a year in which I have been made to experience most abundantly that God is good to the soul that seeketh Him. And oh! what goodness it is when He himself implants in us the desire of seeking while we are enemies. I rather think that when I last wrote I gave an account of what I believed was my conversion, and, God be thanked, I still believe that it was His work. Since the letter I cannot say that I have always had as much enjoyment as before it, but still there has been much joy in the Lord, though, alas! there has also been much sin... But through grace I have always been enabled to trust in Him who has begun the good work in me, and to believe that He will also perform what He has, out of His free love before I was born, begun. Oh! that I might receive grace to walk more holy before Him.
John has written both in this and former letters very fully as to public matters here: I shall try and tell something about domestic. In the last letter Papa says that he proposes sending two bills, of about £60 each, a year. We had calculated that we would need very nearly that a year on an average. I may state to you some of our principal expenses. House rent, with service — two very nice large rooms at a cheap rate, £15 a year. Dinner — about sevenpence each a day, £17 a year. Clothes — we are not very sure how much they will amount to. During the past year we have spent about £10, but we shall not need much for a considerable time to come. Bread — nearly 10s. a month. Books — we are not sure, perhaps £15 a year too. And then innumerable little sums which mount up — tea, sugar, lights, etc. At present we have no college fees. These will all have to be paid together at the end of the course.
As to our external circumstances here, they are very much the same. We still associate only with our own circle of students. If you see the number of the Free Church Missionary Record for April, you will see mention made of them and us. We meet at present every Friday evening for work from 5½ till 10, and then sup together from 10 till 12 — very plainly, of course, bread and butter, cheese, and some sort of coffee. On Wednesdays we meet in a church for oratory, when one delivers a sermon, another speaks extempore, and a third reads a piece of poetry — all, of course, to accustom us a little to the work in which we expect and hope to be engaged. On Sabbath evenings we meet together for reading, singing and prayer, when one generally speaks over a chapter. We have also begun a missionary society to meet twice a month for communicating missionary intelligence, and prayer for the extension of the kingdom of our God and His Christ; so that on the first Monday of the month we shall have the pleasant feeling of being engaged about the same time as you and thousands of God's children throughout the whole world in supplicating for the outpouring of God's Spirit on the world. Most of us also generally spend the Sabbath afternoon in visiting the wretched districts of the town and speaking to the people about their souls, and in teaching a few of their children in our rooms. Oh! that all this may not remain there and go no further, but may God grant us His abundant blessing on our work and on our own souls.
There is a plan that I have to propose to Papa. I cannot say that I am sure that it will meet with his approbation, but I mention it thus early that he may think about it, and shall write more fully about it afterwards, and then Papa will perhaps be kind enough to give me an answer. In about two years from this date, which is all the time that it will be necessary for us to stay here, I shall be just twenty years old. The lectures here are such that it is almost impossible to get any good from them. What would Papa say to my, or perhaps both of us, then going to Germany? It would likely be to Halle, where there are a great many excellent (both in head and heart) professors, at the head of whom stands Tholuck, a pious man, professor of exegesis, who stands at the head of those who at the present time oppose the German neology — at least as to what concerns the New Testament. From living being cheaper in Germany than here, the expenses of the journey would be compensated for by the difierence in the price of living. And about the same time the Kapenaren at Barmen would be going there, so that we would be able to live perhaps still cheaper. The reason that I have spoken of myself alone is that from the want of ministers at the Cape it would perhaps be necessary for John to come home immediately, and he would then be just about an age at which he could be ordained, while I think it very unlikely that in this stiff country where everyrthing must happen according to the laws, they would ordain me so young (little more than twenty). It would, however, be of course a very great advantage for him too. You will say, my dear Father, that it is looking far forward. May God guide us in all our steps, and give us grace to do whatsoever our hand findeth to do with all our might.
Extracts from letters from John are here inserted for the additional light which they cast upon the general religious situation in Holland.
John Murray to his Parents.
19th September, 1846 — I received Papa's letter of the 30th April this morning. It has certainly had a voyage of very unusual length. I am thankful again to hear of the Lord's goodness resting on our dear home, and this goodness, too, not without some spiritual blessing, I trust...
Is your Seminary coming to anything yet? I know in a country like the Cape it is impossible to go on with the speed they do in Scotland, but I hope you will try to be clear of Holland as soon as possible, and educate for yourselves ministers, catechists and schoolmasters. At the Cape the Dutch people have a very wrong impression of Holland, as I learn from many circumstances, and particularly from what I hear from J. Neethling. He was a good deal connected with Uncle William [Stegmann], and the universal coldness that prevails here, as well as the want of an enlarged public spirit, even in pious people, contrasted with Uncle William's fervency and energy, give him a very poor idea of this country. In fact, I am much more of a Dutchman, in principle, than he: he is almost ashamed of the name.
But about this country, — I am sure if the people in general, and the ministers too, knew of the doctrines taught here, at Leyden and Groningen particularly, of the contempt with which the most influential ministers (as those of large towns) talk of Dordtsche regtzinnigheid (Dordt orthodoxy), of theiralteration of the words of the formulas, for instance that of baptism, they would have done with the relations they maintain with this country. Above all, I forgot to mention the scandalous morals of the theological students. I solemnly assure you the name of God is profaned in the theological class-rooms, even by the orthodox and respectable students; nor do they lose character by being intoxicated now and then on some festive occasion, provided only it do not take place immediately before the proponents-examen (examination for licence). And in this I take no notice of grosser offences of which a few are guilty, who though destitute of character and notorious, still become ministers when they are ready.
2nd November — As to my studies and classes I may say a few words, since Papa will be interested to hear of them, though I know not that I have anything new or interesting to communicate. We have now entered on the new study of Systematic Divinity. It is taught by Prof. Vinke, who has this year begun to teach it by the exposition of the Confessio Belgica. The precise motive which induced him to adopt this method I do not know, but I rather think it is in order to bring more prominently before the students the doctrines of the Reformed Church and of the Bible, in opposition to the heresies which are taught at Leyden and Groningen. On the score of soundness of doctrine, so far as I can judge from the little progress we have made in the treatment of the subject, I do not think there is any reason to complain. I have heard him preach now and then too, and have gotten the same impression from his preaching as his teaching. As a rule, however, his preaching does not satisfy me so well as that of other domine's here, so I don't go to hear him often. The rest of our club, Andrew included, never do it, and think me somewhat moderate in this and other respects...
But about Dogmatics, — in private I am busy with a German system which I hope to master, but I read at the same time Calvin's Institutes, and afterwards I hope to read Witsius' Oeconomia Foederum. Such books as these two last scarcely any student uses nowadays. In truth it is laughable and sometimes contemptible to hear how people talk about de hoogte van den tijd (being up-to-date), etc. I must say I like the writings of the Germans very much for their depth of research and for their scientific way of treating every subject; but it is rather too bad to treat everything old with contempt, especially when the question is considered in a Christian point of view, — I mean, when you contrast the ancient doctrines with the unscriptural and sometimes blasphemous opinions which fill so large a part of the modern theology.
On the same sheet of paper as that which contains the preceding extract, Andrew adds the following lines —
Andrew Murray to Ms Parents.
I rather think that we also told you of a missionary society that we had erected, to read together a few missionary periodicals in English and German. We are now going to publish a missionary periodical in Dutch — sixteen pages monthly — consisting of extracts regarding the progress of the work of God throughout the whole world. The reason that we (there are eight of us) are going to do this is, that Holland is lamentably deficient in interest in the missionary work, and the two existing periodicals are rather spiritless, and confine themselves to rather small fields. I hope that the Lord will direct us in the management of it, and give His blessing.
All our other outward circumstances are very much the same. We have met with very kind friends. Amongst others I lodged at the end of the summer vacation with a young minister in Harderwijk, Dr. Taats, a fellow-student of Messrs. Krige and Albertyn. He is one of the pious and evangelical party, who, however assiduous in his parish work, yet unfortunately like most of the pious ministers in this country, leaves the public church affairs very much in the hands of those in whose possession they at present are — the moderate Liberals. This is the great subject of complaint of pious men like Dr. Capadose, who wish to see all the truly pious uniting themselves together. This is at length beginning to be the case, although to a much less extent than might be wished.
To Andrew’s request to be allowed to spend a year in Germany his father returned a circumspect reply. He admitted that a probationer could not as a rule be ordained before attaining the age of twenty-two years, but as a reason for immediate return to South Africa he urged that “there are spheres of usefulness here from the time one arrives, and one is gaining experience before he has all the responsibility of a congregation.” Perhaps Mr. Murray’s thoughts had even then turned to the great hinterland, which was to be Andrew’s first field of labour, for he adds: “The destitute state of the farmers beyond the Orange River is to be brought under the notice of the Synod. We have no unemployed labourers, except it may be a Mr. Reitz, of whom I hear nothing. It is thus very probable that two may be sent from our Presbytery to labour among them for some months, and to collect information as to their situation and necessities.”
The number of Cape students at Utrecht had in the meantime been increased by the arrival of Jan Neethling, Nicolaas Hofmeyr and Hendrik Faure. The first-named reached Holland in 1846, and the latter two in the following year. Their presence at Utrecht meant much to John and Andrew; for not only were they compatriots, who brought with them a fresh breath from the Southern home which the brothers had quitted eight years previously, but they held similar views on questions of personal religion, and helped to strengthen the ranks and extend the influence of Sechor Dabar. Writing of Nicolaas Hofmeyr, his biographer, Mr. J. D. Kestell, says: “In addition to Faure, Hofmeyr had as close friends John and Andrew Murray, with whom, however, his intercourse was not at that time very prolonged, for the Murrays had already nearly completed their studies, and they left the Academy in the following year (*They spent two years together in Utrecht — May, 1846, to May, 1848). In that short time, nevertheless, an indissoluble bond was established between them and Hofmeyr, as well as between these three and Jan Neethling.”
When the year 1848 dawned it brought the brothers within sight of the end of their studies. On the 18th March, Andrew writes to his parents —
Andrew Murray to his Parents.
You can conceive that we are anxiously waiting for the letters from home which shall decide the question as to my next year. Although I still feel the necessity of staying, yet I can say that I am prepared for whatever shall be good, trusting that that gracious Father will guide us now, as He has hitherto so kindly led us, and believing that He knows what is best for His Church in that part of the vineyard where I desire to labour. My desire is to place myself in His hands, and He can use me even although I have not the advantage of an additional year's stay in Europe, — perhaps even better than if I had such an additional stock of human wisdom, which so often proves nothing else than an obstruction in God's way.
I say it is my wish to do this, for, alas! the general state of my mind is not so much a resting in faith in God's leadings, but a certain indifference and contentedness as to the future, resulting from my natural character. What a blessed thing it would be if we could commit ourselves and all our cares to Him in faith, in that active, living faith that is really concerned in the future. I find that I so often mistake for faith a certain state of the mind which is content with the future from a sense, not of God's fatherly care, but of God's providence as something allied to fate, — an idea that I can't help it, and that there is no use in troubling about it. Oh! how different is that faith which arises from a soul really concerned in its own interests and in God's glory, that sees and feels human aid insufficient and failing, and then flees to Him who is the strong refuge...
I am sure we have often been reaping the fruits of your believing prayers, whilst we were still unacquainted with true prayer, and I trust that we may still go on to experience what a blessing praying parents are. I must reproach myself, too, that I feel this so little, and that I so little seek in prayer those blessings for you, which we have so often received from you through this means. The Lord teach us to pray, and oh! although I do not pray for it as I ought, may He grant you a rich answer to the many prayers you have offered for us in an abundant blessing for your own souls. I am sure there are no prayers which parents offer, of which the answer is more gratifying to their own souls, than those which they see answered in the conversion of their children. May a gracious God, who has so far richly blessed the family in the conversion of the four eldest, unite us all in those ties which are closer than those of earthly relationship, and make us one in Christ.
As John has stated, we do not know what our plans are after 10th May, as the decision depends upon Papa's letters. On receipt of them we shall, of course, write immediately. At this moment we are naturally very busy. Yesterday we passed a tentamen (trial examination) with Professor Royaards, and to-day we were promised our certificates. Professor Bouman expressed himself quite satisfied with our conduct. So much for the external preparation. Our chief study for the examination is Dogmatical Divinity. The other branches are comparatively easy.
But I must bid you farewell for this time. Hoping soon to receive Papa's letter, I shall postpone more extended communications on our plans till then. Remember us to all the family. What a meeting it will be at the end of the year! Be assured, my dear Parents, of the sincere affection of your loving son.
It was customary at that time for young probationers proceeding abroad to receive ordination before setting out for their appointed spheres of work. This ordination was generally administered by a body of ministers styled De Commissie voor de Zaken der Protestantsche Kerken in Oost en West Indiën (The Committee for the Interests of Protestant Churches in the East and West Indies), but known more familiarly, from its place of meeting, as De Haagsche Commissie (The Hague Committee). The difficulty of Andrew’s being under the regulation age had been in some way or other surmounted, and on the 9th of May, 1848 — Andrew’s twentieth birthday — at The Hague, both brothers were solemnly consecrated and set aside for the work of God in South Africa.
We still possess, from the pen of N. H. de Graaf, a touching account of the farewell accorded to John and Andrew Murray on their departure from Utrecht. In his reminiscences of Sechor Dabar, from which we have already quoted, Mr. de Graaf says: —
The end of the first period [of the Society] was reached when the first Murrays left us. We had by that time received fresh accessions from the Cape — N. J. Hofmeyr, H. E. Faure and J. H. Neethling, and subsequently more Murrays and another Hofmeyr. Later on, the establishment of a Theological Seminary at Stellenbosch was the natural and blessed reason why no more Cape students came to attend the Utrecht Academy.
And now I have reached the day when John and Andrew Murray took their leave of us. An extract from a letter dated 3rd July, 1848, will give you a faithful account of what took place on that eventful day. The letter was written on the day after their departure to my fiancee, Johanna Elisabeth Pierson, who for the last thirty-five years has been my beloved wife and trusty colleague.
Yesterday, Sunday, the 3rd of July, we attended the Buurtkerk, where Rev. Lucas Merens officiated. We felt the need of uniting once more in prayer and praise with so many whom we knew and who knew us. At 3 in the afternoon we met in the rooms of J. Drost — fifteen in number, the remaining three of our circle being absent from town. It was our united and fervent desire to show forth the Lord's death at the Sacramental Table, and to declare our expectation of His return. For that purpose Drost had purchased a glass dish and glass bowl, which he retains to this day as memorials of our gathering.
Behold us then assembled, in deep earnestness, in peace and love, at the apartments of Jan Drost on the Marieplaats. John Murray led our devotions. “'k Zal eeuwig zingen van Gods goedertierenheen” (Evermore will I sing of God's mercies) — that was our confession of faith, our strength for that day, our hope in the approaching separation. After prayer and the reading of a beautiful portion of the formula for the Lord's Supper, we again raised our voices in confession and prayer: “Jezus, uw verzoenend sterven Blijft het rustpunt van ons hart” (Jesus, in Thine atoning death Our heart confides and rests). Once again John Murray led us in prayer, and then we partook of the elements, and thus held communion with the body and blood of Christ, who died for our sins and was raised for our justification. We ate and drank, and were indeed strengthened and quickened. John then read Psalm 103 and Colossians 3, “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek the things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.” After a prayer of thanksgiving, and united commendation of one another to God's love and faithfulness, we sang Psalm 133, and received the benediction from our leader.
At 7 o'clock we met again in a roomy apartment in my father's house. Since I was host, I opened the gathering with prayer and song, read a portion of Romans 16 and some pages from Beets' Stichtelijke Uren, after which we sang from the 43rd hymn, “Hoog, omhoog, het hart naar boven” (Raise your hearts on high, on high). We then had opportunity for private conversation, John and Andrew exchanging confidences with each one present in turn. Finally they stood there, one of them closely surrounded by half our number, and the other by the other half. At 9 o'clock we had supper, Andrew asking a blessing on our meal. At 10 o'clock we sang together portions of Psalm 116, after which I read Ephesians 1 and 2, and spoke a few words on the passage. We then knelt down, and I had the privilege of leading in prayer, in which I expressed the gratitude which filled the hearts of us all for the inexpressibly precious blessings we had enjoyed, especially during the past three years; and also for the blessings of this last day, when we were able to commend our beloved friends to the love of our God, with whom is no variableness or shadow of turning. We then united in singing Psalm 134, standing close round John and Andrew. We wept and embraced the brothers so dearly beloved. John then extended his hands over our heads: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.”
At the front-door stood a faithful housemaid, who always attended on us when meetings were held at my home. On leaving, the brothers pressed a suitable douceur into her hand. “But, gentlemen,” she remonstrated, “am I the only one from whom you part this evening like a stranger?” “No, no,” they replied, “we look upon you as no stranger, and part from you as a sister.” “Well then, a sister receives no tip,” she said, and the money glided back into the hands of the friendly brothers. Outside, a carriage was waiting to take them to Vreeswijk. It was half-past ten. We went outside to refresh our spirits in the silent and beautiful night.
Thus ended Andrew’s connexion with Holland. The three years spent there had been a critical and formative period. The great change which he called his conversion, and for which God had been preparing him ever since solemn thoughts had been aroused within him by William Burns’ message, had been consummated here. His conviction that God had called him to the ministry of the Gospel had been deepened. His assiduous studies and intercourse with others, as well as the companionship of his serious-minded brother, had imparted to him maturity of judgment and greater thoughtfulness of disposition. It is said that in early years Andrew was known for his exuberant spirits, and that the staid elder brother would often rebuke the younger with, “Andrew, you should not laugh so much; it is not good to laugh so much.” This was perhaps a survival of the old supposition that religion and joyousness are incompatible. But notwithstanding this natural gladness of heart, there can be no doubt of Andrew’s deep and constant seriousness from this period onward. His letters show that his mind was steadfastly set on things above, and bear evidence to that continual introspection and self-examination which produced such abundant reward in his gracious Christian character and his blessed and fruitful ministry.
We have no record of the homeward journey to South Africa. The brothers left Holland apparently in July, and reached the shores of Table Bay some time during the first half of November. They were accorded a hearty welcome back to their fatherland by relatives and friends alike. In Cape Town resided their grandparents Stegmann, as well as their maternal uncle, the Rev. George William Stegmann (“Uncle William”), a man of great energy, piety and evangelical fervour, who at that time was pastor of the coloured congregation worshipping at St. Stephen’s, Bree Street. The arrival of two young ministers from Europe was in those days an event of more than local importance. It was chronicled in Church magazines, referred to in the Press, and discussed in ecclesiastical circles throughout the country. At the time of which we are speaking it was also customary to invite a new arrival to occupy the pulpit of the Groote Kerk in the Heerengracht (now Adderley Street) — the oldest church building in South Africa — so that all might have the opportunity of seeing him and hearing him proclaim the Gospel. To these and other matters reference is made in the following letter, the first, apparently, which Andrew addressed to his parents after his return to his native shores.
Andrew Murray to his Parents.
Cape Town, 15th November, 1848.
My dearest Parents, — You will perhaps just at this moment have received the letter John sent off last week, and be rejoicing in the mercy of the Lord, who has brought us hitherto. Oh! that I felt more what it is that we have enjoyed at the Lord's hands during the past ten years, which He has thus crowned with His goodness in granting us the long-looked-for consummation of our hopes. And it is certainly for good that some time will elapse before we meet, although it was to us a disappointment not to find you here, as we had been delighting ourselves with the thought of meeting you all here.
We have, of course, not yet made any plans as to our coming down. The letter we hope to receive from Papa next week will certainly contain directions for us how to act. As to one of us staying at Wynberg, I think I could agree to it were it necessary, but I hardly see the need of it; and without a very pressing call of duty, I think it would be almost doing violence to you, especially to Mamma's feelings... Should Papa, however, in his letter say that this appears to be a call of God, I think either of us is ready to stay. I almost suppose that it would fall to my share, as John will likely be placed long before me.
Papa certainly knows already that we heard from Mr. Faure that John will most likely be called to Burgersdorp, while I shall have to act as assistant until I am twenty-two; so that I am indulging the pleasant prospect of spending a year at least at home before taking sole charge of a parish. I do trust and pray that the Lord will prepare us for all that He has prepared for us, whether that be meeting or separation...
I cannot say with what kindness we have been received here, not only by our dear Grandparents and other relations, but also by other friends. Especially is the interest which the people of God take in us quite humbling, when I think how little they really know what I am. Oh! that my soul were really brought to a sense of its own littleness by the overwhelming load of God's mercies.
Uncle William won't be in town till Saturday night: we both long very much to see him. On Sabbath John is to preach in the morning, at Wynberg, and on Sabbath week in the morning for Dr. Heyns in the Groote Kerk. I am to officiate there this Sabbath for Mr. Faure, and will likely in the afternoon or evening have to occupy the pulpit of St. Stephen's. The reason of my preaching first in the Reformed Church is that my voice is stronger than that of John, and he would like me to try it first. My text is: “Wij prediken Christus, den Gekruisigde” (“We preach Christ crucified”) — 1 Corinthians 1:23. May it be true! But I feel it very difficult not to preach myself, by attending too much to beauty of thought and language and feeling too little that God alone can teach me to preach. We are also half engaged to preach for Messrs. Morgan and Miller, if we are able...
The invitation referred to above, to remain at Wynberg, was apparently a request to occupy the pulpit of that parish during the absence of the minister, the Rev. Philip Faure, who, together with Dr. Robertson, then minister of Swellendam, had departed on a prolonged tour to the emigrant farmers in the territories beyond the Orange and Vaal rivers. Mr. Murray, however, did not insist upon either of his sons acting at Wynberg, and, after a short stay in Cape Town, and visits to Stellenbosch and elsewhere, they embarked in the early days of December for Algoa Bay, where their father met them. They proceeded immediately to Graaff-Reinet, where a glad welcome and a joyful re-union with their mother and the other children (some of whom they had never seen) awaited them.
It is on record that Andrew was of so happy and playful a disposition that the younger brothers and sisters were enraptured with him. “Is Brother Andrew a minister?” they cried, “that can never be: he’s just like one of us!” But it was soon apparent that young Andrew was first and foremost a minister, a preacher of the eternal Gospel, and a ceaseless seeker after souls. On the Sabbath after their arrival the two sons of the manse occupied their father’s pulpit — with what feelings we may well imagine. Those who heard them were profoundly impressed, both with the earnestness and passion of the younger, and with the thoughtfulness and incisiveness of the elder. At the first communion following, the tables were administered by the father and the two sons in rotation. When it was Andrew’s turn to dispense the elements and deliver the customary brief address, he rose, closed his eyes, and for some moments seemed lost in meditation and prayer. An almost painful silence filled the building, and a hush of deep solemnity fell upon the great assemblage. When at length the youth — for he was little more than a youth — opened his mouth, the words which he uttered were so evidently sincere, so intense and so uplifting, that those who heard him, and had last seen him as a boy of ten, could scarce restrain their tears. It was manifest to all that in these two young men God had bestowed upon His Church in South Africa a gift of inestimable value, and that these sons of the Graaff-Reinet parsonage would, if spared, leave a deep impression upon their day and generation.
The hope which Andrew had cherished that he would be able to spend a year at home before assuming the responsibilities of an individual charge, was soon dispelled. During their stay in Cape Town the Governor, Sir Harry Smith, in whose hands all ecclesiastical preferments then lay, interviewed the brothers as to probable appointments. “You are the elder,” he said to John, “and therefore I shall give you the charge of Burgersdorp.” And then turning to Andrew he said, “And as you are the younger, I am afraid I shall have to send you to Bloemfontein.” The elder brother thus received what was considered the more eligible appointment to a congregation lying within the borders of the Cape Colony, while the younger had to content himself with a remote and unattractive parish beyond the Orange River. And thus Andrew became the first pastor of a territory nearly fifty thousand square miles in extent, and the first regular minister to live and labour among the voortrekkers.