"> '); Prevailing Intercessory Prayer : F. B. Meyer: The Murray Family

The Murray Family

F. B. Meyer





ONE of the strongest formative influences in the Dutch Reformed Church for the last two generations has been the Murray family, and this will serve as the connecting link between some other of the later towns visited in our tour. 


Some 120 years ago a Dutch farmer, named Graaf, owned a large farm here; his wife was named Reinet; and this characteristically Dutch town, with its broad, tree-lined, rectangular streets, derives its name from that worthy couple. There is a lingering savour of the primitive Colonial life in these old-world towns, where neither train nor motor, electric light, nor even gas has penetrated. The extensive open spaces for out-spanning and the sale of market produce; the avenues of old trees on either side of the broad roads; the widespreading, one-storied houses, with their deep verandahs or stoeps, their gardens, with trellised vines, aloes, fruit trees, and lovely flowers-all breathe an air of profound restful- ness and peace. One is reminded of the deep, still pools where the fish lie, out of the swift current of the river. 

The town, with its four thousand white in- habitants and perhaps eight thousand natives, lies in the lap of noble mountains which encircle and screen it. In the high cliffs large numbers of baboons make their homes, but the lower slopes are covered with the low karroo bush, the prickly pear, and the spiked mimosa. On these, in such drought-smitten years as this, the cattle and Angola goats make a hard living. Such is Graafi' Reinet, the Gem of the dry Karroo veldt. 

But notwithstanding its quaint, quiet, old- world air, with its shyness of modern ways and methods, the town teems with young life. Youths and maidens from a wide area come to be trained here for their life-work; and the blue skies, the dry and cloudless atmo- sphere, the brilliant sunshine, are propitious for clear thinking and high living. The Girls' High School and Normal College, under the presidency of Miss Murray, the sister of Dr. Andrew Murray, is one of the best of its kind anywhere. In 1820 the religious life of the Colony was suffering from the blighting effect of Moderatism, with its attendant laxity of doctrine and life, and a request, which I am told had the Governor's sanction, was sent to Scotland, on the ground of its being the natural home of orthodoxy, that a number of young Presbyterian ministers should be sent out to assume the pastoral office. Among these was Andrew Murray, the father of the world-famous family. After spending a short time in Holland to acquire Dutch, he landed with his wife at Cape Town and was sent up to Graaff Reinet. The commodious parsonage, with its massive walls lifted above the level of the street on spacious cellars, had been built by slave labour at the direction of Lord Charles Somerset in 1808, the Government greatly complaining of its cost. It stands at the end of one of the principal streets, and behind it stretch the large, old-fashioned garden and glebe. Beside the manse is the Vinery, formed of the trellised branches of a prodigious vine, a picture of which may be seen at Hampton Court. It is said that both in girth and the heavy yield of grapes it rivals, even if it does not outdistance, its famous relative. Here Moffat, Livingstone, and many another missionary, on his way up-country, would spend weeks or months, recruiting man and beast after the hard and tedious journey, and laying in stores previous to a long farewell to civilization. Dr. Murray told me that he quite well remembered, as a never-to-be-forgotten episode of his boy- hood, the day of Dr. Moffat's arrival with four great wagons and not less than fifty oxen, and how he stayed some three or four weeks on his way to Kuruman. The charges of such a halt were never thought of by the entertaining party in those primitive times when the entertainer might require the same hospitality. In the possession of Miss Murray is a letter written by Dr. Livingstone, dated Kuruman, June, 1 843. I handled the yellow paper with its faded hand-writing with peculiar reverence. It was addressed to her father, thanking him for kindness shown and discussing questions of common interest. 

To old Andrew Murray and his wife were born the goodly family of eight sons and eight daughters. Miss Murray, who was one of the younger children, took us round the house and garden, now used for the purposes of a Training College, and enabled us, by her vivid narrative, to people them with the large and happy family nurtured here, to become in after years an inestimable benefit to the land of their adoption and birth. The two elder sons, John and Andrew, were sent to complete their education in Scotland, their father not being satisfied with the manner in which Latin was taught in the Colony. They were welcomed to the home of Dr. James Murray, of Aberdeen, who is still remembered there by some of the oldest people for his uncompromising preaching of future retribution; but his photograph, which has been sent for my inspection, is that of a strong, kindly face. Dr. Murray told me that W. C. Burns, the bosom friend of McCheyne, held his great mission in the city whilst he was a student there; and I think he was entertained at his uncle's manse. To me it was extremely interesting to hear that he remembered walking beside the great missioner and missionary, carrying his bag on the way to hear him preach. It was during their residence in Aberdeen that the two brothers resolved to give themselves to the ministry. From Aberdeen they went to Holland to acquire the Dutch language, and ultimately returned to Cape Colony as ordained ministers, aged twenty-two and twenty-one. John was appointed to a charge in the Colony and ultimately became, with Professor Hofmeyr, one of the founders of the Stellenbosch Seminary; whilst to Andrew was given the oversight of the Orange Free State, with the Transvaal thrown in! The Great Trek had just taken place, but the population was scattered over the country and was extremely sparse. When he first appeared in the pulpit the people asked, “What can this young boy teach us?” But after they had heard him preach they said that he was “like an angel of God.” He told me that the first temporary structure of reeds, erected in the Transvaal for him to preach in, was put up where Pretoria now stands, under the direction and superintendence of Mr. Paul Kruger, then a young man, the son of a farmer in the vicinity. After forty years of faithful service the elder Murray retired from the charge of the Church at Graaff Reinet and was succeeded by his son Charles, who exercised the pastorate until four years ago, when he died, widely lamented; but the after-glow of his character and preaching lingers on the entire neighbourhood. He was an eminently devout and holy man, and during his pastorate the present Dutch Reformed Church was erected, at the cost of £18,000. It is one of the most imposing churches of the Colony, and I can never forget the four memorable services held within its walls, or the charming fellowship we enjoyed with the two present ministers, both related to Dr. Murray, and with the brethren who met me on two occasions for prayer and fellowship in the manse. Of the veteran pair that settled in the old manse in 1822, 304 descendants have sprung; and eternity alone will reveal the blessings which have accrued to South Africa from this slip of Scotch Presbyterianism planted and naturalized under the Southern Cross. The total number of ministers in this apostolic succession, either directly or by marriage, amounts to forty- two, of whom eight have died. Three of the family are now studying for the ministry; and, as I spoke to at least one dear boy, it is evident that others of the youngest generation are to follow. Six are missionaries in Central Africa, four in Mashonaland and the Transvaal; three have been in Nyassaland, though compelled to leave on account of the climate. Three of the grandsons are in Parliament. What an illustration this family offers of the truth of those ancient words, “The spirit which I have put upon thee shall not depart from thy seed, or from thy seed's seed, henceforth and for ever”! 

When Dr. Andrew Murray was ordained in 1848 the congregations of the Dutch Reformed Church numbered 33, now in the sub-continent they amount to 239, with 83 Mission Churches, and 498,000 members and adherents. Obviously such a result is not entirely attributable to this one family; many godly men have been associated in the ministry and the Church Courts; but it must be remembered that for many years in succession Dr. Murray was the Moderator of his Church, and that these forward movements have been largely due to his wise prescience and strenuous leadership. His Church sent him to London to plead their case before the Privy Council, when Sir Roundell Palmer was a rising barrister. And thus it befell that between the pastorates of James Sherman and Newman Hall, while in London, he preached in Old Surrey Chapel. During the same visit he became acquainted with the brothers Haldane. All this, of course, occurred before his books had made his name famous throughout the world. Illustrious as a statesman and leader, Dr. Murray has always been eminently a theologian and a mystic. One of his old friends told me that he would read Mill or Herbert Spencer for recreation between exhausting meetings, laying them down at the slightest summons to a prayer-meeting or evangelistic service. We came across another precious relic at Graaff Reinet. Dr. Carey's great-grand-daughter is a resident in the town, and she received us kindly in her pleasant home. We had called to see the old Bible which Dr. Carey kept in constant use while engaged in his stupendous tasks of translation. Inside the cover is a portrait of the great missionary and his wife, probably copied from a larger painting. The front page, in the Doctor's own handwriting, contains an analysis of the contents of the Bible, signed and dated May 9, 1845. The book was issued from the Oxford Clarendon Press in 1801. There are no notes or marks on the margins, but many traces of the ravages of white ants. One or two faded letters, recording the fact of Dr. Carey's death, lie asleep within the old yellow leaves, only waking to tell the story of the past as prying hands like mine lift them back for a moment into the light, and then relapsing to their long, long dreams. On one occasion Dr. A. Murray carried the old book to Wellington to show his students, that the very sight of it might quicken their missionary ardour. The same Christ waits to baptize us to-day with the same Spirit and use us for similar work if only we yield ourselves to Him! Space fails me to describe the rare natural beauties of this neighbourhood. Most reluctantly we tore ourselves away from it and the kind friends who had crowded so much pleasure into so brief a space. In the early morning, at 4. a.m., we drove through the sleeping streets to resume our journey. 


The Mission in the Dutch Reformed Church of this picturesque old Dutch town is one of my most delightful reminiscences. For the first three days the meetings were confined to ministers and missionaries, many of whom had travelled great distances. One, for instance, had driven fourteen hours in his Cape cart, and then spent twenty-four hours in the train. With two exceptions they belonged to the Dutch Reformed Church, but understood English perfectly, and were well acquainted with our religious literature. Many had at- tended one or more of the services at Christ Church during my ministry. 

At three sessions each day we searched the Scriptures to apprehend the meaning of the Cross and the experiences of which it is the Gate; and probably none of us will ever forget the awe and wonder and joy as the Spirit of Truth took of the things of Christ and made them flash before our gaze. But the choicest moments were those in which Dr. A. Murray gathered up our experiences in a few closing words of prayer. Some fifty years ago he ministered in this Church for five years. Shortly after his settlement a Revival broke out, lit in part from the great movement associated with the Fulton Street Prayer Meeting, New York. In the study of the manse, where the present minister, Rev. I. P. A. de Villiers and his wife most kindly entertained us, Dr. Murray wrote “Abide in Christ” in Dutch, with the intention of helping those who had begun to live the religious life and needed a daily portion for meditation and instruction. It was a great inspiration to sit in the room which had witnessed the earliest of those valuable books that have been of such priceless value to the children of God in every branch of the Church. When I asked Dr. Murray how he had been led into this line of truth, he replied, “Some years before at Bloemfontein.” On his removal to Wellington he was succeeded by his brother, Rev. William Murray, whose gentle and holy face looks down from several portraits; though pictures are almost superfluous when the fruits of a thirty-five years' ministry abound in noble institutions for the blind, the deaf and dumb, and for Church purposes. 

“At the close of the third day” (I quote from the local paper), “the audience having grown to several hundred, after the Benediction had been pronounced by Dr. A. Murray, the Rev. George Murray voiced the feeling of the ministers who had attended the conference. He said that the time had come to say 'Good- bye' and separate; and they could only praise their Master for what He had enabled the missioner to do and say. They had been given a view of the land that was too beautiful, too great, and too glorious for some of them; but they would try and put into practice the lessons they had been taught; and they greatly appreciated the messages which had been brought.” 

On the fourth day I preached three sermons in the noble church to the towns-folk. Two were kindly interpreted into Dutch by the beloved minister, as the Dutch- speaking Boers had come in from the surrounding country; but at night I preached in English to a mighty congregation which crowded the edifice in every part. It is interesting to know that Mr. de Villiers preaches in English each Sunday evening, attracting the two nationalities to meet in the helpful accord of a common religious service. At dinner in the manse, one day, Dr. Andrew Murray being there also, Rev. A. C. Murray, who has had long experience of work in Nyassaland, narrated the following incidents: At the close of an earnest Gospel appeal made one Sunday night a crowded inquiry-meeting was held, in which natives who wished to be prayed for were invited to raise their hands. Many did so; but there was another crowd listening outside, having been unable to enter the hall, already thronged to the doors. One of these pushed his hand through a broken pane in one of the windows. “How touching this hand,” said Mr. Murray, “reaching out of the dark night beckoning for help!” . . . In a conference among the native preachers and workers on “ Fellowship with God ” an aged native remarked, “If you are on a journey and someone sits by your side when you take your food and eats with you, that would be fellowship; but according to my idea fellowship with God is deeper than that. I have seen a little brook flowing on and on till its waters mingled with the great ocean-fellowship with God is like that.” . . . In proof of the fidelity of the native boys to any trust inspired in them he gave the following: A white man, desiring to send a message to a friend, gave a letter to his servant to carry in a cleft stick. He ought to have returned on the following day, but on his failure to do so a party was dispatched to search for him. In a thick part of the bush there were traces of a scuffle with a lion, and all that remained of the lad was the right hand still holding the cleft stick with its letter. I cite these incidents as casting light on some elements in the native constitution : they might be greatly multiplied. 


As I look into my diary I discover that we remained in this romantic spot for only three days. It is very difficult to believe it, so much was crowded into that brief space. It is a town of about six thousand inhabitants, surrounded by mountains, threaded by a little stream, and embosomed in avenues of trees, especially oaks, thick with foliage. It is Oxford and Cambridge rolled in one. Every Dutch Reformed minister has studied in the Theological Seminary under Professors Hofmeyr and Marais; and it is said that the cream of the South African Dutch, whether lawyers, professors, or politicians, regard Stellenbosch College as their alma mater. The place is pervaded by a highly intellectual atmosphere. At certain hours, when the classes and schools disgorge their crowds of young men and women, the streets are flooded with life; but in the intervals they subside into a mystical silence that may be felt. During one morning I must have addressed five different seminaries, finishing with a meeting for the six hundred students in the great College Hall. An afternoon meeting was also convened in the Seminary; the professors and teachers of the various educational institutes, together with the theological students, forming a noble and inspiring assembly. But the greatest opportunities of all were the three great evening services in the church. These were among the supreme hours of my life, and would have amply repaid me if I had crossed the ocean for nothing else. Professor Hofmeyr is one of “ the grand old men” of the Dutch Reformed Church, and, indeed, of South Africa. Here, in the midst of the wine-growing district, for thirty years he has stood for Total Abstinence; and though in the early days his principles cost him dearly, so much so that people refused to attend his Church or take the Communion from his hand, he is now universally respected; and many who most strenuously opposed him honour him greatly for his fidelity to conscience. He has a charming personality, is the hero and friend of the young people, and wields an almost unique influence over the town which has been the scene of his useful and honourable career. 


This picturesque town, like the rest, has a most charming situation. To the east stands a range of lofty mountains, always rich in colour, and changing in the varying aspects of the day. Around, the land is covered with vineyards. Groves of fruit trees enclosing the pretty homes, arum lilies growing wild in great patches of purity, lilacs and peach-trees aflame with colour, the exquisite freshness of the green foliage, the blue sky, brilliant sunshine, murmuring brooklets, combine to make one of the fairest of settings for a Convention that mind of man can conceive. 

It was much to see Dr. Murray in his home, to sit with him under his stoep, to eat at his table, pray in his study, and have his presence beside me at the meetings. More than eighty summers have passed over his head, leaving him ripe and mellow. His mind is alert and strong, his eye clear and penetrating, his natural force wonderfully vigorous when one takes into account the pain and lameness consequent on the accident of years ago, his voice strong and resonant. Retired from the pressure of Church work, in which he has ministered for thirty-five years, he is spending his last days carefully tended by his daughters and surrounded by the magnificent institutions he has founded, prolific in their teeming life, and their perennial yield of love and joy. 

Foremost among these is the Huguenot College. Dr. Murray describes himself as “a disciple of Mary Lyon.” It was the perusal of her life-story that suggested to him the desirability of laying the foundations of the higher Christian training for women which is characteristic like of Northfield and Wellington. His ideals have been superbly realised by the co-operation of two splendid women, whose names will always shine in the history of the sub-continent-Miss Ferguson and Miss Bliss. The two principal buildings bear their names. Here also is the College where students of both sexes graduate in mathematics, science, and classics, the Normal Training College, the Missionary Institute, and the High School. The missionary flame burns bright in the veteran's heart. He is constantly looking out on the great heathen world and speaking of its needs. . . . “One hundred millions of heathen now in the dark, two-thirds of the world without Christ.” . . . “ God will be true to His part of the bargain, but we must be to ours. I will give power, but ye are to be witnesses.” . . “Suppose that Cape Town made a contract with a gas lighting company to light all the streets, and that in six months they lit only a few, whilst the bulk of the city remained in darkness, what would be said? There is only one city where that takes place-the city of God.” . . . “If you cannot go to the heathen, you can live for them.” Just before I reached Wellington he had inaugurated an important Layman's Missionary movement, and, after my departure, was contemplating the holding of several missionary conferences, with the object of stirring up the Dutch Reformed Church to greater missionary efforts. Certainly her rapid advance in missionary enterprises during the last few years is perfectly marvellous. The ministers taking part in the convention, of the Church of England, the Wesleyan, Presbyterian, and Dutch Reformed Churches, asked me to preside over the meetings of the convention, and our fellowship became very intimate and hearty. The spirit on the platform realised the motto, suspended overhead, “All one in Christ Jesus.” Several times prayer was offered by the Dutch ministers in their own language. The tide ran very high. My old friend Rev. Walter Searle writes: “Those of us who have been associated with our Wellington conventions for many years praise God for what has been one of the most remarkable we have ever attended.” 

Each morning, before classes and lectures began, I addressed a mass meeting comprising the students and young people, who filled the Town Hall from end to end. It was an imposing sight to look down on that sea of young, intelligent faces, as on four successive mornings I spoke of the length, the breadth, the height, and the depth of the Beautiful City of a consistent character, founded on precious gems, and irradiate with the presence of Christ. Their singing was very moving, as they rendered with culture and feeling the fresh hymns and tunes which Mr. Frank Huskisson taught us from his choice selection. The great day of the Feast was the Sunday, when I preached afternoon and evening to fifteen or sixteen hundred people from Dr. Murray's old pulpit. It was very sacred ground. A holy hush fell on the people as Dr. Murray commenced the evening service with prayer. “We felt,” says one, “as though a benediction fell on us whilst we listened to that prayer; but how frail he seemed! A thin, lined face, spare form, long grey hair, attenuated hands grasping the red velvet cushion in front. It was a pathetic picture-the picture of a prophet of a past generation.” An after-meeting was fixed for the Goodnow Hall, and the congregation poured out in streams to attend it. As we hurried through the crowded streets, beneath the brilliant stars, the solemn and awe-inspiring music of the grand old hymns and tunes of the Dutch Church rang in our memory; but it was still more solemn and awe-inspiring to stand in the crowded meeting and discover that, with the exception of twenty, the entire audience was prepared to acclaim Christ as King and Saviour; and the twenty had acknowledged His claims ere they left the place. Some of these gave their glad testimony at the closing meeting on the following morning, in texts of Scripture. 


Imagine a long, straight street, lined with old-world Dutch homes, standing back from the roadway, with a lofty mountain range behind it, and a valley stretching to the foot of another mountain ten miles distant, and you have the Paarle, or Pearl, so called from the glistening splendour of the mountain crest in certain lights. Dr. Murray drove over with us from Wellington and remained for the two days of meetings. They were very delightful and inspiring gatherings which he addressed two or three times with much power, corroborating statements I had made. We were the guests of our dear friends Rev. P. G. Meiring and his charming wife at the Dutch manse. I trust that he will forgive my quoting from his gracious farewell letter: “Your departure left a huge void in our home. We had during weeks been looking forward to your stay with us, and it had become almost part of our daily thought. The reality so far exceeded even our expectations, that when it was all over, we felt that we had been robbed of a great treasure. . . . There are thousands in our land who are thanking God that you have been here, and who have received fresh light on the problems of life.” The minister of the other Dutch Church was also extremely kind; and that Church, in my judgment, is clearly the most beautiful edifice that I visited in South Africa. The style of these Dutch Churches is yielding to the changing spirit of the time; but in most respects the theology, singing, and ritual are as they were a hundred years ago. The Dutch ministers impressed on me their dread of the intrusion into their flocks of the laxity of modern life and the loose manner in which Europeans observe Sunday. This largely accounts for the attitude which is maintained in many instances towards the British. Probably racial differences are partly accountable for this, but, perhaps more than we appreciate, the Dutchman clings to the old ways of his fathers, and desires to exclude the impact of the oncoming tides of this revolutionising age. 

It is clearly in the Divine plan, that these two great races should live together on the same soil and under the same sky; and it is highly important, therefore, that the Christian Churches of each should draw close together; that national asperities may be softened, and the bonds of union strengthened. It is for this reason that Church Councils are so invaluable, providing, as they do, a common meeting- ground, and the base of concerted action.-F. B. Meyer, “The Murray Family,” Winter in South Africa, (London :National Council of Evangelical Free Churches,1908), pp. 207-228.