Of all pathetic plights surely the most pathetic is that of a minister moving about this grim field of varied necessity, professing to be a physician, but carrying in his wallet no balms, no cordials, no caustics to meet the clamant needs of men. But of all privileged callings surely the most privileged is that of a Greatheart pacing the highways of life, carrying with him all that is needed by fainting, bruised and broken pilgrims, perfectly confident in “Him whom he has believed.”
— J. H. Jowett
Before commencing the story of Andrew Murray’s life-long connexion with the Dutch Reformed Church, it would be well if we obtained a bird’s-eye view of the growth of that Church from the earliest times. The Dutch Reformed Church was planted in South Africa when the settlement was founded by Jan van Riebeek in 1652. For many years it had no resident minister, but sermons were preached and the sacraments administered by clergymen of the Church who passed the Cape in vessels voyaging to or from the East Indies. The first regular pastor, Johan van Arckel, arrived in the fourteenth year of the existence of the settlement. Twenty years later a second congregation was established at Stellenbosch, and since then the D. R. Church has gradually extended its boundaries, doubling its membership in, approximately, every two decades.
So long as Dutch rule continued, the congregations in South Africa were regarded as an integral portion of the D. R. Church in Holland, and in accordance with Presbyterian canon law they stood under the ecclesiastical control of the Presbytery of Amsterdam. The mother Church in the Netherlands supplied them with ministers, while the salaries of these officers were paid by a paternal Government. At the Cape there was no local effort, very little local interest, and, of course, no local control. Religion was severely unemotional and chiefly a matter of form, and it exercised but little vital influence over the everyday life of the population. Divine service was conducted on Sundays and on feast-days like Good Friday and Christmas Day, and being the most important social function of the week was regularly attended. The members of the kerkeraad or consistory — a body which regulated the temporal affairs of the congregation and exercised a limited discipline in matters spiritual — were appointed by the Governor, though he mostly acted on the recommendations of the local minister. This state of affairs prevailed for a century and a half. The Church was part of the civil establishment; ministers were Government servants whose names appeared upon the civil list; and congregations could exercise hardly the smallest spiritual functions without interference from an ecclesiastical court situated six thousand miles away.
Except for a short interregnum of three years (1803-1806) the Cape Colony has been under British domination for a century and a quarter. The cessation of Dutch rule implied ipso facto the severance of the tie which bound the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa to the Dutch Reformed Church of the Netherlands. When the articles of capitulation, which made the Cape a British possession, were signed by the last Dutch Governor, Sluysken, in 1795, they contained an express proviso that the religion established by law should be maintained. The short-lived Batavian Government, which succeeded the first British Administration in 1803, introduced a “Church Order” which contained inter alia the following clause: “An experiment is to be made whether it be possible and useful to hold a General Church Assembly every second year… at which meeting there shall be present two political commissioners to represent the Government of the Colony, these commissioners to have the right to suspend the decision of the meeting at any point, until they have ascertained the Governor’s desire.” The British Administration, which re-assumed the reins of government shortly afterwards, took over the above-mentioned “Church Order,” but the “experiment” appeared to be so unpromising that twenty years elapsed before the D. R. Church summoned up courage to act upon the suggestion made.
The first General Assembly, or Synod, consisting of representatives from the thirteen congregations which were then established, met in Cape Town in 1824; and subsequent Synods assembled regularly at the lapse of every five years. The presence of the political commissioners, however, was felt from the outset to be a restriction on free speech and action; and when, in 1842, one of the commissioners made use of his influence with the Governor to dissuade the latter from attaching his formal approval to the synodical decisions, the Synod recorded its emphatic protest against outside interference in ecclesiastical matters. The Governor, Sir George Napier, was a reasonable man. He declared his anxiety “to free the Church from the trammels of secular interference in all spiritual or purely ecclesiastical matters and of substituting in all other matters, for the authority which he conceived to have been so undesirably continued in the Governor, the authority of the highest civil tribunal.” Governor Napier was as good as his word. In the following year a “Church Ordinance” was passed, which fuUy recognized the Church’s right to frame and carry out her own regulations — under certain important provisos — without the necessity of securing the sanction of the Government. This document is the Magna Charta of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa; and though twenty years later it involved her in serious difficulties and prolonged litigation, it remains the chief landmark of her history — the sign and seal of the independence to which she attained after nearly two centuries of subordination and pupilage.
Though the Cape had now become, politically, a colony of the British Empire, it was still united by many interests, both ecclesiastical and linguistic, to Holland. For young colonials who had the inclination and possessed the means of studying for the sacred ministry practically the only course was to proceed to one of the academies of Holland. But such young men were few and far between. Occasionally a Hollander, who had qualified as minister of the Gospel, made his way to South Africa, and during the first quarter of the nineteenth century a few men who had come out in connexion with some missionary society or other found a more congenial and more fruitful field among the Dutch-speaking white population. The grievous dearth of clergymen and teachers led also to the quest of Dr. Thom, to which reference has been made in the first chapter — a quest which secured for the Cape Church the services of such excellent men as Andrew Murray, Smith, Sutherland and Fraser. But in spite of these accessions the scanty and irregular supply of ministers, wholly insufficient for its growing needs, greatly hampered the D. R. Church in its efforts at expansion.
Superficial expansion, and rapid expansion, there certainly was. For though South Africa, in the forties of last century, was not very populous, it was of vast extent. Congregations of the D. R. Church were found from Cape Town in the west to Burgersdorp and Stockenstrom on the eastern frontier, and from the shores of the Indian Ocean in the south to the banks of the Orange River in the north — an area of some one hundred and fifty thousand square miles. But this great area was nearly doubled by a great displacement of population which took place during the fourth and fifth decades of the century. Hundreds and thousands of farmers, members of the D. R. Church, in their dissatisfaction with British rule, emigrated with their wives and their children to the broad pastures of the territories north of the Orange River, now known as the Orange Free State, the Transvaal and Natal. To describe the motives which occasioned the Great Trek is beyond our present scope. Suffice it to say that it was not due, as one extreme view has represented, to the desire to achieve religious liberty: no people could enjoy greater freedom of worship than these pastoral Boers. Nor was it undertaken, as extremists on the other side aver, because the Boers were determined to uphold slavery, and could not enforce this resolve under the British flag: Pieter Retief , the chief emigrant leader, declared emphatically, “We shall take care that no one shall be held in a state of slavery.” Dissatisfaction at the losses which they had sustained in the frontier wars, and at the unjust way in which they, had been defrauded of their share of compensation for their emancipated slaves; irritation at the nagging policy of the British Government, and at the “unjustifiable odium” cast upon them by interested missionaries and philanthropists; perhaps also the lure of the wilderness, coupled with a vague, innate desire for complete independence — all these were contributory motives. History has seldom witnessed a stranger or more moving spectacle than that of well-to-do farmers, some in the first flush of youth and others bending already under the weight of years, forsaking their farms and their homesteads, packing their families with all their household goods into the huge, unwieldy ox-waggon, driving their flocks and their herds before them, and trekking away into the distant, unknown interior. Judge the motives of the Great Trek as we may, we can hardly read without emotion the words with which Retief ends his manifesto of grievances: “We are now leaving the fruitful land of our birth, in which we have suffered enormous losses and continual vexation, and are about to enter a strange and dangerous territory; but we go with firm reliance on an all-seeing, just and merciful God, whom we shall always fear and humbly endeavour to obey.”
How to regard or control this mass movement on the part of Colonial farmers was a question which greatly perplexed the statesmen of the day. Governor Sir Benjamin D’Urban said that “it seemed next to an impossibility to prevent persons passing out of the Colony by laws in force or by any that could be framed.” And Captain (afterwards Sir) Andries Stockenstrom declared to the inhabitants of Uitenhage that “he was not aware of any law which prevented any of His Majesty’s subjects from leaving his dominions and settling in another country, and such a law, if it did exist, would be tyrannical and oppressive.” But whether the emigrants, by passing beyond the borders of the Colony, were ipso facto absolved from their allegiance to the British Crown, was quite another question, and it is just to say that both the Colonial and the Home Governments denied the right of the emigrants to draw this conclusion. As to the number of people who thus voluntarily expatriated themselves, we have the contemporary testimony of Captain Cornwallis Harris, who estimated them at between five and six thousand souls. Ten years later, in 1847, there were no less than two thousand families, or between ten and twelve thousand individuals, in the territory now known as the Orange Free State, and five years later Andrew Murray speaks of another “ten thousand souls” scattered in the regions to the north of the Vaal River.
Only the merest sketch is possible of the fortunes of the emigrants. Passing through the present Free State, their drift was in two main directions — northward to the country which soon became known as the Transvaal, and eastward, down the steep escarpment of the Drakensberg, into the fertile valleys of Natal. Here they came into collision with the Zulu potentate Dingaan, who in 1838 treacherously destroyed Retief and his party, while the latter were negotiating a treaty of peace with him; but in less than a twelvemonth he was overthrown by a commando of avenging Boers. In the Transvaal the emigrants were attacked by the Matabele chieftain Moselekatse, whom they defeated and compelled to withdraw to the distant north, where he established a new capital at Bulawayo, in the present Rhodesia. The hopes of the emigrants to be left in unmolested possession of Natal, with access to the sea-board, were soon dissipated; for an English force drove them out of Durban, and turned back the tide of emigration to the lofty table-lands of the Free State and the fruitful regions of the Transvaal.
The southern section of the emigrants, who had settled between the Orange and Vaal rivers, were the first to feel the long arm of the British Government reaching after them. Bickerings and disputes were unhappily frequent between the emigrants on the one side, and native chieftains like Moshesh, the Basuto leader, and Adam Kok, the Griqua captain, on the other side. The latter chieftain claimed sovereignty rights over the southern portion of what is now the Orange Free State, and these rights the emigrants refused to acknowledge. Governor Sir Peregrine Maitland, accordingly, determined to establish British rule over the disputed territory, which lay between the Orange and the Modder rivers. The township of Bloemfontein was founded, and Major Warden was settled there as British Resident, and entrusted with the difficult and delicate duty of maintaining order, restraining native aggression, and conciliating the emigrants; and in the fulfilment of this task he was not wholly unsuccessful.
In the belief that the emigrants, at least those living south of the Vaal, were at length reconciled to British rule. Sir Harry Smith — one of the most eccentric and popular of Cape Governors — in 1848 proclaimed the Queen’s authority over the whole country between the Orange and Vaal rivers, and bestowed upon the territory thus annexed the title of the Orange River Sovereignty. But he had wholly misinterpreted the temper of the Boers. No sooner was his back turned than they rose in arms under the command of Andries Pretorius, ejected Major Warden and his insignificant little garrison from Bloemfontein, and demanded that the proclamation of British sovereignty should be withdrawn. Sir Harry Smith was nothing if not energetic. He issued orders for a strong body of troops to march to the banks of the Orange, and followed almost immediately afterwards to take command. A brief but sharp engagement occurred at Boomplaats, near the Riet River, on the 29th August, 1848. The Boers were defeated, and Pretorius was compelled to retire beyond the Vaal River. The Sovereignty Government was re-established, and Major Warden re-occupied Bloemfontein with a considerably augmented force of soldiers. Those Boers whose antipathy to the Queen’s rule was most inveterate followed Pretorius across the Vaal. Such was the political aspect of affairs when Andrew Murray received his appointment as minister of Bloemfontein early in 1849.
The time had now arrived for young Murray’s introduction to the arduous duties of his vast parish. His farewell sermon to the congregation of Graaff-Reinet, preached on the 22nd April, 1849, was based upon the Apostolic Benediction. The next day witnessed the severance of the ties so recently re-united, which bound him to the old home. According to ecclesiastical law and ancient custom in South Africa, the congregation which presents a call to a probationer is responsible, in the event of the call being accepted, for the conveyance of the minister’s person and property to his new sphere of labour. In pursuance of this excellent practice the Bloemfontein folk had deputed Deacon Pretorius, with a capacious waggon drawn by a team of powerful horses, to fetch the young pastor at Graaff-Reinet, three hundred miles away.
Accompanied by his father, who was to introduce him to the congregations north of the Orange River, Andrew set out on the day following the farewell services. Fully sensible of the importance of the work he was about to undertake, the community at Graaff-Reinet endeavoured to do full honour to their youthful fellow-townsman. Fifty young men on horseback formed themselves into an escort, and conducted the travellers for some considerable distance on their way, thus testifying to the feelings of esteem with which they regarded both Andrew Murray the father and Andrew Murray the son.
The first Sunday was spent at a place called Zendelings-fontein, on the Riet River — fourteen miles from the present town of Fauresmith. Here a congregation had been established by the Revs. A. Murray, Sr., and P. K. Albertyn, on the occasion of their pastoral visitation in the summer of 1847-8. The autumn being already far advanced, the cold was intense, and many who intended being present on this auspicious occasion, found themselves prevented by the inclement weather. A paragraph from the scanty record of the proceedings informs us that on the forenoon of that Sabbath, Andrew Murray senior delivered the charge from the words: “And thou, Solomon, my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve Him with a willing heart and with a perfect mind”; while Andrew Murray junior preached his introductory sermon from Romans 15:29 “And I am sure that, when I come unto you, I shall come in the fulness of the blessing of the Gospel of Christ.”
The following Sunday (6th May) was fixed for his induction to the congregation at Bloemfontein, which was to be, for the next eleven years of his life, the central point from which radiated tireless activities and incessant journeyings to north and south and east and west. His coming to the chief scene of his labours had been awaited with the utmost eagerness. One of his future parishioners, writing some two months previously, gave expression to their expectations in the following terms —
It is very gratifying to learn from so many sources that the Rev. Mr. Murray is so worthy a gentleman, and moreover so well fitted for the sphere of work assigned him. He can rest assured that he will be welcomed in our midst in heartiest fashion. All the Boers whom I have recently met are rejoiced at the prospect of soon possessing a permanent minister. One of the best houses in Bloemfontein has been conditionally engaged for him. The foundation of the Church building had been laid, while building stones and baked bricks lie upon the site, in readiness for the arrival of the mason, for whom a conveyance has already been despatched.
With us in the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa the presentation of a minister to the congregation which has called him is a simple but impressive ceremony. After the presiding minister has delivered his charge, the young incumbent is, summoned by name to appear before the pulpit, where he publicly takes upon himself vows of faithfulness to Almighty God, to truth as contained in the Bible and the confessions, and to the congregation to which he is about to minister. We may well suppose that it was not without feelings of deepest solemnity that Murray entered upon his new duties. In introducing his son the father preached from 2 Corinthians 6:1, while the son, taking charge of the afternoon service, based his first discourse to his own congregation on Paul’s noble avowal: “We preach Christ crucified… Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23). At the conclusion of this service the father, preaching in English, directed words of counsel and encouragement to the British section of the inhabitants of Bloemfontein.
The subsequent movements of father and son on this memorable tour are described in letters which the latter wrote to the family circle at Graaff-Reinet. Three days after his induction at Bloemfontein he celebrated his twenty-first birthday, to which he makes a passing reference in the following letter from Winburg, dated 11th May, 1849 —
To his Mother.
I have now to resume the narrative of our journeyings. On Monday [7th May] after the sermon there was a good deal to do with the church-wardens, especially as to the building of the church, which, I am sorry to say, is not very far advanced. On Tuesday morning we left Bloemfontein for Winburg, which we reached on the evening of Wednesday — my own birthday. I much enjoyed the thought of so many friends remembering me at the throne of grace; for I am sure many thought of me in Holland, as did Willie [his brother] on the ocean. Especially did I try to hold communion with those who were certainly speaking of us at home, and committing us to the care of a gracious God. And what a year I have to look back upon — God's mercies following me from day to day, from my ordination at The Hague to my induction at Bloemfontein. I tried to remember some of the Lord's chief mercies, although alas! my poor soul too soon wearied of thanking and praising God. How much we lose by not making every gift of God a matter of praise...
On arriving here on Wednesday evening we found that none of the people were to arrive before Saturday, since we had not been expected so soon, and so we resolved to pay a visit to the French mission station Mekuatling. We started on Thursday morning on horseback, and after a ride of 4½ hours reached Merumetzu, the Koranna station, where Mr. van Zoelen labours. He was much astonished to see Papa, as he had known nothing certain of our coming across the [Orange] River. He will have to labour under very discouraging circumstances, as the Korannas are incorrigibly idle, and cannot even be brought to blush on account of it. People speak of privations in my coming to Bloemfontein. When I rode away from Merumetzu I thought I had indeed reason to say, “The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places.” Mr. van Zoelen says himself that he does not think he will stay there long.
After having spent an hour with him we rode 2½ hours further, and reached the house of Mr. Daumas, where we found Mrs. Daumas and Mrs. Cochet at home. The two gentlemen had gone by a different road to Winburg, in the hope of seeing us there. We spent a very pleasant evening with Mrs. Daumas and Mrs. Cochet: the latter was nursing a baby three months old. Next morning we had an opportunity of seeing the station. Mr. Daumas has really done much. All sorts of fruit trees [are found] in the garden, which is large and well laid out. Some of the trees, especially the best apricots and peaches, are from stones which you gave Mr. Daumas. The chapel is very neat and substantial, and there are some two dozen well-built cottages belonging to the Christian natives.
After leaving Mekuatling early this morning, we fortunately met Messrs. Daumas and Cochet on the way, and had the privilege of spending a couple of hours with them at Mr. van Zoelen's. They were rather downcast at the dark prospects of the Mission. They daily fear the outbreak of war, as the chief of their station has robbed one of his neighbours of a large quantity of cattle. And the whole country will be mixed up with the matter, since all the chiefs have now sided with one party or the other. What they fear is not so much personal violence as the moral evil [that would be] caused by the war. Many of their members are led away to join in the war by the hope of gaining cattle, and they cannot so join in without conforming to heathenish ceremonies. The missionaries appeared to be indeed making the Lord their stay in the midst of their troubles.
12th May — I was much afraid that it was a foolish thing for us to take such a long ride of fourteen hours, as I feared that Papa would be much knocked up. But he is as well as ever, and is just going to preach (Saturday afternoon at three). We this morning met again with Charlie [his brother], who has been spending ten days at Mr. Theron's. The congregation will not be very large, as the weather is cold, and the intimations were not well circulated.
We shall very likely leave this on Monday, to spend Wednesday night at Bloemfontein, and then Sabbath in the neighbourhood of Smithfield. On the following Wednesday we hope to preach on the other side of the Caledon, and to reach Burgersdorp on the Friday or Saturday, if the Lord will. Should it at all be possible, I do trust, dear Mamma, that you will be able to come and meet us there.
A fortnight after the date of the above letter, father and son were at Burgersdorp for the induction of the elder brother, John Murray, having in the interval covered a distance of 175 miles. To Andrew Murray the father was again assigned the duty of installing a son as pastor of a large and important parish. Burgersdorp contained in those days — as indeed it still does — a religious element that declined to conform in all things to the ecclesiastical practices that commonly obtain in the D. R. Church of South Africa. They resembled in many respects those dour old Highland members of the Scottish Churches, who cling with stern devotion to ancient customs, refuse to sing aught but the Psalms of David, and abjure the organ as a “kist o’ whistles.” It may be that Mr. Murray, in his induction charge, endeavoured to win these conservative “Doppers” (*a religious sect among the Cape Dutch, the members of which are distinguished from their compatriots by their peculiarities of dress and custom. Their tenets are rigidly Calvinistic) from their attitude of suspicious aloofness, for he discoursed upon the words: “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves; for they watch for your souls as they that must give account.”
At the introduction of Andrew to his charge in remote Bloemfontein, no clergyman other than his father was able to be present; but the settlement of John at Burgersdorp was signalized by the presence of four brother ministers — the Andrew Murrays, father and son. Rev. Taylor of Cradock and Rev. Pears of Somerset East. The chronicle of the event in the Church magazine De Kerkbode is, as usual, bald to excess. “The Rev. J. Murray preached his inaugural sermon in the afternoon [of Saturday, 26th May] from the words of 2 Corinthians 5:20. The church was completely filled; the attention was great. On the following morning the Lord’s Supper was administered, Rev. A. Murray, Jr., preaching in the forenoon, and Rev. J. Pears in the evening, in English. The Rev. A. Murray, Sr., meanwhile conducted a service, in a building specially devoted to that purpose, for the coloured people. On the Monday Rev. J. Taylor took his leave of the congregation, which for some time he has served in his capacity as ‘consulent,’ with the words of Philippians 1:27; and on the following morning father and sons departed, returning each to his own sphere of toil.”
Andrew returned to Bloemfontein by the most direct route, accomplishing the 175-mile journey from Burgersdorp in three days — which must be considered as good travelling. Of his daily life in these early years some particulars have been preserved in a letter to his brother, dated Bloemfontein, 14th June, 1849 —
To Rev. John Murray.
You certainly would ere this have heard from me, were it not that on arriving here I learnt that the post between Smithfield and Burgersdorp has ceased going, and we shall thus be obliged to avail ourselves of any opportunity which occurs. Since I left Burgersdorp all has been well. I arrived here, as I had hoped, on the Thursday evening, though I found it pretty hard riding in the short days, and the last day of the journey was so excessively cold, as we had a good deal of snow right in front of the cart. On arriving here I found everything pretty much as we had left it. I am still with Dr. Drury, and am very comfortable, except that I am not always sure of my privacy, as his medicines stand in the room which I occupy. The churchwardens have now conditionally bought an erf and house for £400, which will be ready, it is hoped, in the course of a couple of months. It will be about one of the best houses in Bloemfontein, with three good rooms and pantry, and a large kitchen behind. I have gotten my servant boy from Winburg, and he pleases very well indeed. From Mr. Burger, who spent Sabbath the third here, I got a very good horse for £10, but he has run away! I had not my own servant at the time, and during the heavy rains I could get nobody to look after him. I trust that he will yet be found. Mr. Stuart rides every day, and I very often accompany him. For the present I have the use of one of Dr. Drury's horses. My dinner I get sent me every day, at the very cheap rate of £1 per month, and though plain it has hitherto been very good. Almost everything can be got here, almost as cheaply as at Graaff-Reinet, so that as to externals I am very comfortable.
But to come to more important matters, you will be anxious to know something about the state of matters spiritual here. As to the Dutch congregation, I do not know much to say about them that I have not told you before. Last Sabbath I had a congregation of about seventy, and the preceding Sabbath of about 100. The former will, I suppose, be the average. I cannot describe what I felt on going for the first time into the schoolroom to commence my regular ministrations in the midst of this poor people. Now that I am getting a little settled down (for the former week, alas! I did almost nothing), I trust that our gracious God is bringing me somewhat to feel the necessity of an intimate experimental soul-knowledge of the precious truth to be proclaimed, and, above all, of that one glorious central truth — the amazing wonder of the love of a crucified Jesus. Let us, my dear brother, seek to drink much at the fountain-head, to make the love of Christ the ground of a continual trust and hope and rejoicing. Then shall we know what to preach to perishing sinners. Then shall we also know how to preach, with the earnestness of a burning love that is straining every nerve to save souls from eternal perdition...
On Sabbath afternoon I had an English congregation of about seventy. This cannot be taken as a criterion, as nearly half of the men are away with Major Warden. I feel much more difficulty as to the English than the Dutch congregation as to the preaching, and still more as to the pastoral work. There are only two Dutch families in the village, and some thirty respectable English, besides a number of low English. I hope soon to call on all the families. The officers are all unmarried, rather wild (very often drunk), and two of them are living openly with coloured women. I trust that the Lord will give me special wisdom with regard to the English here. I hope next Saturday evening to begin a service for the blacks (there are about sixty of the Cape Corps here), at which there will of course also be an opportunity for the Dutch Boers to attend.
Mr. Stuart is very active in doing all he can to promote order here. He is very severe in court, some say by far too severe. He is very busy in improving Bloemfontein — making streets, furrows and bridges. He has four convicts at work, as well as a number of “drunken ladies,” who have to clean the streets from nine to twelve. We may very likely soon have a Teetotal Society here. Next week we hope to begin subscriptions for a library (English and Dutch). With our newspaper we know not how to do, as it would be difficult to get a printer down without being able to secure him a livelihood.
Till the end of July I shall not have very much to do besides preparing for the pulpit, and I do hope that I shall be enabled to spend that time diligently in laying up store against the time when there will be very little opportunity for study. I shall also try to read a good deal of English. Mr. Stuart has the North British Review from Mr. Cameron, the Wesleyan missionary at Thaba Nchu. You can conceive what strange feelings were excited in me on receiving in this part of the world a few numbers of the Evangelische Kirchenzeitung. I had the pleasure of seeihg a good deal of Mr. Wuras, who spent three days here last week, and on his return home he sent them to me... If you are writing to Meintjes about books from Holland, please order 100 copies of Zahn Bijbel Geschiedenis for me, and say that the works of C. Mel appear to be much in request here.
Bloemfontein in 1849 was exceedingly unlike the compact and neatly-built city which has since arisen on the rolling prairies of Central South Africa. According to the description of an old resident the town at that period was little more than a straggling hamlet, with houses scattered irregularly on both sides of a streamlet known as Bloemspruit. The original homestead, said to have been the property of a farmer named Brits, was contiguous to the spring from which the village took its name — Bloemfontein, Fountain of Flowers (*Some derive the name from Jan Bloem, chieftain of a tribe of half-breeds, who is said to have dwelt here, whence the fountain was called Bloem’s Fountain, and so Bloemfontein). Hard by the fountain stood the Government schoolroom, which until the erection of a permanent church building on the north side of Bloemspruit was the scene of Andrew Murray’s pulpit ministrations, and indeed the place at which all gatherings of the inhabitants, whether for civil or religious purposes, were necessarily held.
The Rev. J. J. Freeman, one of the secretaries of the London Missionary Society, who passed through Bloemfontein early in 1850, was by no means favourably impressed with the place. He says —
Bloemfontein, the seat of the Government in this Sovereignty, has nothing to recommend it in its natural features. The scenery is extremely uninteresting. There is no wood and little water. The plan of a town is laid out. The foundation of a church is laid. A courthouse and a prison exist. There are about forty or fifty tolerable houses built. There are a few stores and shops, a market-place with a bell to announce the time when sales take place, and a clerk of the market appointed. A good well has been sunk, and at forty feet depth a supply of water is found from six to nine feet. The inhabitants have wisely asked to be formed into a municipality, and their request has been granted. Here is also a fortress, a few cannon, part of a regiment, a major, one hundred Cape Mounted Rifles, and barracks, as the usual material of an improving community. There is also a Government school-house, but at the time of my visit without scholars or masters. Religious services are held there on Sunday. Mr. Murray, son of the Dutch clergyman of Graaff-Reinet, has received the appointment to the new Church. He diligently and laudably employs himself, during a great part of his time, in travelling among the emigrant farmers in the interior, and conducting religious services.
Bishop Gray, the first metropolitan of Cape Town, who touched at Bloemfontein, in the course of a visitation tour, in May, 1850, jots down the following impressions —
Bloemfontein is rapidly rising in importance... Everything is of course in a very rough state. There is nothing remarkable in the situation of the village: it is defended by a rude fort mounted with four guns... In the evening I met Dr. Frazer and Mr. Murray, the zealous young Dutch minister, at dinner. He was placed here, I believe, when little more than twenty-one years of age, and has a very difficult place to fill, which he has done with great discretion.
Under the date Sunday, 5th May, Bishop Gray records that: —
at half-past one we had service in the school-house. The service lasted nearly three hours, and we encroached upon the time appointed for the Dutch service. There was not room in the building for many of the Dutch people, but they crowded round the doors and windows throughout the whole time. I counted nearly fifty of their waggons in the outskirts of the village.
The country around was as wild as the village was rough. The Sovereignty at that time was alive with game. Wildebeest, hartebeest, quagga, blesbuck, springbuck, ostriches, wild pigs, and hares roamed over the broad plains. Nor was there any lack of wild beasts. Leopards and wolves, jackals and wild dogs were frequently encountered, even in broad daylight, and constituted a formidable menace to the enterprising stock-farmer. Lions were found in the immediate vicinity of the township. In a letter to his brother, written about this time, Murray makes significant mention of the fact that “last Friday the officers of the garrison shot nine lions about three hours (i.e. 18 miles) from here.” Collins informs us that in 1853 Major Kyle, the military commandant of Bloemfontein, bagged three full-grown lions, one male and two female; while in the same year four officers on one occasion accounted for seven lions, one of which “made a desperate charge at Capt. Bates, nearly dragging him off his horse.” The postmaster of Bloemfontein received special injunctions from Mr. Stuart, the Resident Magistrate, “not to despatch the mails for Colesberg later than 4 p.m., as lions still roamed at large in the immediate neighbourhood of the town.”
The relations which subsisted at this time between the farmers of the Sovereignty and their black neighbours were highly unsatisfactory. The frontier of Basutoland was in a condition of perpetual disquietude. Cattle-raiding was the order of the day. Native chiefs preyed upon the white man and upon each other. The rule of the strongest prevailed, and Major Warden, with a handful of soldiers at his disposal, was powerless to maintain order. The burning question was that of boundaries — boundaries between white and black, and boundaries between black and black. This question of the delimitation of territory was the occasion of disputes without end, and gave rise in the near future to events of the greatest moment. To the troubled state of matters on the Basuto border Murray makes reference in the following letter, dated 27th June, 1849 —
To his Father.
From all accounts it appears that matters are wearing a very serious aspect among the Caffres. Moshesh and his people are very much dissatisfied with the line which is making, and declare that they cannot part with such a great piece of their country. It is feared that the disturbance between Moshesh and Sikonyella will give rise to a war between the former and the English. Moshesh has promised to deliver up the cattle taken by his people from Sikonyella within a fortnight, but nobody expects him to fulfil this promise. Major Warden had only about 130 men when dealing with him: they declare that they were very glad when they got away, as Moshesh had 15,000 men in the neighbourhood, — about 1,000 men on horseback and his own retinue. Of course the 300 men comprising the garrison here will be able to do nothing against such an enemy, as the Basutos are known never to fight during the daytime. It is also said that great numbers of Zulus are at present marching to join Moshesh. The farmers from the Caledon River also say that they would not be astonished if the Caffres very soon attacked them there, as they refuse to have anything like a line. I have heard that Mr. Cameron of Thaba Nchu and some of the other missionaries are already talking of removing. It is certainly very trying thus to see their labour destroyed.
Meanwhile the toils and travels of the young minister were being prosecuted with unabated ardour. His interest in the most benighted was as deep as in the most enlightened. He inaugurated a Sunday-school, a Bible class, a Temperance Society, and put forth efforts, which were not wholly unsuccessful, to reach even the degraded Hottentots and Bushmen. The following lines, dated 25th June, 1849, give some idea of the variety of his duties and the extent of his journeyings —
To his sister Maria.
How I wished yesterday that I had you here, or some of the other Sabbath-school teachers from Graaff-Reinet. We began our Sabbath-school, and had plenty of scholars but no teachers. Near this there is a place where all the Bushmen reside, and from there we had some two dozen grown-up people and as many children. Mr. Stuart has been taking great interest in these Kafferfontein people, and when I rode out there with him last week, I invited them to come to church. Accordingly they came, headed by their chief in a cast-off blue coat. The elder ones I took [as class]. It was really sad to see them. Some of the real old Bushmen could not understand a word of Dutch, and none of them knew much. I tried to make a beginning with teaching them some of the elements of Christian truth, and the first verse of the hymn “God heeft de wereld zoo bemind” (God so loved the world). In speaking of them Mr. Stuart always says, “He is able to save to the uttermost.” And why should we then despair? May the Lord give grace to work in faith. We have a great lack of teachers. Mr. Stuart will most likely take the English Bible Class, with about twenty pupils; Dr. Drury the English children who cannot read; and then we shall require one for a Dutch class, and another for the little native children...
Left on Monday last for Schietmekaar on the Riet River, where I preached on Tuesday night, thrice on Wednesday and again on Thursday. Held also on Thursday a meeting with all the people to speak about building a church. They have hired the half of N. Jacobs' farm for 100 dollars (£7 10s.) per annum, and are going to erect a building sixteen feet inside by eighty, at the cost of some 3,000 dollars £225). A good many people were much opposed to spending so much money on a temporary place, but after the matter had been explained to them they were content...
I am just starting with old Willem Pretorius to hold huisbezoek (pastoral visitation) to-morrow at the Commandant Erasmus', at the opening of his house. On Thursday I am to hold huisbezoek at old Andries Erwee's, and then to spend Sabbath at Winburg... I should like very much a very small feather-bed for travelling, that I can also use when I get lodgers here, and I see that I cannot do without a kostmandje (tiffin basket). The former could be packed into the latter. I hope my house will be ready in the course of a month.
An important event in the annals of the recently-established Sovereignty was the first session of the Legislative Council. This body had been called into being by a proclamation of the High Commissioner, Sir Harry Smith, and consisted of twelve Government nominees, presided over by the British Resident. The Council was to meet annually in Bloemfontein, and had power to frame laws binding upon all persons in the Sovereignty who did not fall under the jurisdiction of native chiefs. The first meeting of so august a body of men provoked considerable excitement in Bloemfontein. The non-official members of the Council were well-known farmers, and among them occurs the name of Andries Erwee, at whose farm Murray occasionally instituted huisbezoek and conducted divine service. The young minister, at that time the only clergyman in the Sovereignty, was asked to open the gathering with prayer. “When I arrived here last Tuesday,” he writes to his father, “I found the town filled with the members of our Legislative Council, and have thus myself been kept in a bustle the whole week. I was requested to open the Council by reading a prayer which had been sent down, and I did not feel at liberty to decline, though I felt some doubts. The meeting of Council was a very fair one, and was chiefly occupied with the estimates of the Sovereignty. On Andries Erwee’s saying that he could not swear allegiance to the Queen on account of the Convict Business (*The reference is to the Anti-convict Agitation which convulsed the country in 1848-9, — a determined and successful protest against Earl Grey’s project of making the Cape a penal settlement), a strong resolution was passed against their introduction.”
The disquieting rumours which were rife in the countryside as to the menacing attitude of the Basuto acted as a disturbing influence on the movements of the young pastor. The programme of preaching and pastoral visitation which he had planned to carry out during the month of August had to be in part relinquished. It had been announced that a series of services, culminating in the administration of the Lord’s Supper, would be held at a farm called Rietpoort, where stands the present village of Smithfield. This spot had been selected for the establishment of a new township, and the site having been duly surveyed, the authorities had arranged that on a specified date a number of erven (plots) would be put up to public auction. But Rietpoort lay practically on the boundary which was in dispute, and affairs assumed so threatening an outlook that both the sale and the services were perforce abandoned. To the home circle Andrew writes (Aug., 1849) on these and on sundry other matters as follows —
As I hinted, there will be no sale of erven and no service at Rietpoort. On Friday, the 27th July, the Korannas attacked Molitzani and Moshesh, took all the cattle of the former, and killed thirty-four of their people. Yesterday news was received that there has been another engagement near Platberg, in which a great many lives have been sacrificed. And from Smithfield Major Warden has received a letter stating that the Boers have been in several cases ordered across the Orange River by command of Moshesh.
John has not been here (*His brother had arranged to be at Bloemfontein to assist Andrew with the Communion services), owing most likely to some unforeseen hindrance, very possibly to old Piet Pelser's being too frightened of the Caffres. As I wrote to you before, I have been away from Bloemfontein eleven days. I did not arrive here until Saturday afternoon, and had then to move into the Parsonage, of which only one room is yet ready; and instead of preparing for Sabbath I had to begin unpacking my boxes, which had remained unopened till this time. On taking out the contents I was often reminded of the kindness of you all at home in putting in so many little things for my convenience. Everything was safe — of the crockery only one square dish broken.
The non-appearance of his brother from Burgersdorp to take part in the Nachtmaal services cast a heavy strain upon Andrew. His letters testify to the conscientious thoroughness with which he performed all his work. The catechisation of the young candidates for Church membership was a task which demanded the utmost care and patience. For a full week these young people were subjected to a thorough testing as to their knowledge of the Bible and the Catechism. Thereafter, in Murray’s own words, he “spent some four or five hours in speaking to each of the fifteen candidates personally, trying to ascertain his reasons for wishing to be received, and to discover the state of mind in which he was.” The minister then withdrew with the two elders, whose presence at the final confirmation is required by Church law, and the attainments and spiritual condition of each candidate in turn were patiently considered. Some were rejected on account of their defective knowledge; others whose knowledge was satisfactory were found wanting in earnestness. “By their own acknowledgment they had not yet sought to believe in Christ; or else, while saying that they believed in Christ, their answers showed that they did not even know what they said.” Ultimately, with the full concurrence of both elders, but two of the candidates were accepted.
The Communion services at Bloemfontein were four in number — two on the Saturday and two on the Sunday. At the Sunday morning service the Lord’s Supper was dispensed, and so large was the number of communicants that six tables had to be ministered to, each with appropriate hymn and address. Owing to the great attendance and the absence of a sufficiently commodious hall, these gatherings all took place under the open sky. July and August are windy months in Central South Africa, and Andrew records with gratitude the fact that though the wind blew strongly, he was able to conduct all the services without sensible strain or fatigue.
It must be remembered that Murray was not merely minister of Bloemfontein but consulent or acting minister of the adjoining parishes of Riet River (Fauresmith), Rietpoort (Smith-field) and Winburg. His preaching and parochial work took him in turn to each of these centres: with the exception of the last they could hardly as yet be designated townships. The distances from Bloemfontein to each of the three places are approximately 60, 90 and 60 miles. An important ceremony at Riet River now claimed his presence. This was the laying of the foundation-stone of the new church building. Mr. C. U. Stuart, the Magistrate, to whose sympathetic interest in matters spiritual and ecclesiastical Murray’s letters bear frequent witness, was invited to perform the function. De Kerkbode (The Church Messenger) chronicles the event in its usual terse and unemotional fashion —
On the first of September at the Riet River, in the presence of a numerous concourse, Mr. Stuart laid the corner-stone of a church building for that congregation, which consists of at least 3,000 souls. Mr. Stuart delivered at this occasion a striking address, while the religious services of the congregation were conducted by the Rev. A. Murray, Jr., who also preached there on the following Sunday. From there he travelled vid Bloemfontein to Winburg and to the Valsch River, where he hoped to meet some of the people living beyond the Vaal River, in order to make arrangements for a visit to them, for the purpose of preaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments.
The programme outlined above was carried out in the course of September. Though nominally in charge of the congregation of Bloemfontein, Murray’s parish was in reality the whole of the territory which was known subsequently as the Orange Free State, in which at the present day the D. R. Church has some sixty separate congregations. His September visitation tour carried him first to the Valsch River, in the neighbourhood of what is now the town of Kroonstad, thence to the Wittebergen (Bethlehem), and thence still further eastwards towards the border of Natal, near the township of Harrismith, which had then been recently laid out. By the commencement of October he was back in Bloemfontein, from where he set out almost immediately for Graaff-Reinet, in order to attend the meeting of Presbytery, which was due to assemble on the 18th of that month.
After an absence of seven months, during which his life had been one of incessant journeying and preaching, he found himself again under the parental roof. The physical rest, we may well conceive, was highly needful. The youth of twenty-one had already shouldered more than a man’s burden, and the question which engaged the anxious attention of his parents was whether the health of their strenuous son could endure the heavy strain which was being placed upon it. The rest indeed was all too short, lasting for less than a fortnight. During this brief breathing-space he enjoyed the singular privilege of baptizing a little sister, born on the 22nd September, who received the name of Helen. On the 11th November he is again in harness at Bloemfontein, and casting his eyes northward across the Vaal River, with intent to carry Gospel ministrations to the “regions beyond.” That the strain of the past months was already beginning to tell upon his otherwise sound constitution is evidenced by the somewhat ominous note struck in a letter to his father —
Monday morning, two o'clock [3rd December]. Yesterday I had a rather large congregation of Dutch and a tolerable one of English, and even in the morning before I began I felt tired; for I really never have time to get quite uitgerust (thoroughly rested). I am not without my fears that I may be sadly knocked up before I get back, though I promise that I shall do all I can to spare myself, for I hear enough about it from all the good friends here. I trust that I shall be continually accompanied and supported by your prayers, my dearest father; and oh! I care little whether I have strength enough or no, if my own soul were but in a fitter state for commencing such a solemn work. Oh! for the anointing of the Spirit for my unclean lips, and His softening and enlightening and renewing grace for all who hear. — I am not able now to write particulars about all my plans: this I will do from Mooi River, where all our arrangements will be definitely made.