Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Life of John Murray

The Life of John Murray by Iain H. Murray, Banner of Truth Trust, 2007, 220 pp.
John Murray was born and raised in a croft in the Highalnds of Scotland. He became one of the foremost Reformed theologians of the 20th century. Murray studied and then taught at the Princeton Seminary in the USA just at the time that Princeton was drifting from its old Calvinistic theology. He left his teaching duties at Princeton to teach systematic theology at the newly founded Westminster Theological Seminary, where he served with distinction from 1930-1966. Murray worked alongside the likes of Gresham Machen, Cornelius Van Til and E. J. Young to make Westminster a centre of Reformed orthodoxy and scholarly excellence.

Murray was no ivory tower theologian. He was involved in the life of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in America. He liked nothing better than to preach the Word to the people of God. The theologian had a real pastoral heart and many found him to be a wise and discriminating counsellor. He sought to encourage the Church to be active in evangelism and mission. At one point in the book, we are given Murray’s “Rules for the Open Air Meeting”. His gifts as a theologian and discerning Christian leader were deployed with great effect when he acted as Moderator of the Presbytery’s General Assembly. While Murray was no friend of liberal theology, he was also wary of Fundamentalism, which he saw as anti-intellectual and legalistic. Murray was champion of of distinctly Reformed confessional orthodoxy. He helped to guide the fledgling Reformed movement in the UK, acting as an advisor to the Banner of Truth Trust and speaking regularly at the Trust’s Minister’s Conference.

From Murray’s portrait, that adorns the front cover of his Collected Writings, it might be thought that he was a rather stern and forbidding figure. But he embodied the best of Scottish Highland piety, with a commitment to serious godliness wedded to heartfelt experimental Calvinism. Murray was as strict Sabbatarian. He loved to spend the Lord’s Day in uninterrupted worship, prayer and meditation. He once refused to enter into a conversation with Machen about soccer on the Lord's day, "I do not speak of such things on the Sabbath!" Ironically he was barred from entering the Scottish Free Presbyterian ministry because he sided with a minister who would not discipline a women for catching a bus to church on Sundays. (How sad is that?) Iain Murray brings the theologian’s humanity to the fore with examples of his humour and kindly generosity. The biographer also charts the course of Murray’s blossoming friendship with Valerie, whom he was to marry when in his early 60’s. The couple were blessed with two children.

In terms of his life’s work, John Murray was above all a theologian. Although reference is made to some of his key writings, this biography makes little attempt to assess the enduring value of Murray’s theological legacy. He did not write a complete systematic theology. But he made important contributions to the field of systematics. Murray’s theological method was exemplary. He believed that systematic theology should primarily arise from exegesis of the biblical text. He also argued that the discipline should be informed by the riches of past theological discovery and be able to face the challenges of the contemporary world. Murray published important work on ethics and the doctrines of justification by faith and sanctification. He was one of the top Calvin scholars of his day. His greatest scholarly achievement was probably his outstanding commentary on the Epistle to the Romans.

This edition of John Murray’s Life has a new appendix which contains some previously unpublished correspondence, but no index. I hope that the publication of this biography will lead to a fresh appreciation of Murray’s work, much of which is published in his four volume Collected Writings (Banner of Truth Trust).
See here for my discussion of Murray's approach to systematic theology.


Anonymous said...

This is my most favourite biography ever, I read it at least once every year...and the last few chapters never fail to move me...every time I wish I had known John Murray...the epitome of what a Christian should be.

Interesting I'm told his son Logan is still alive and worshipping in an OPC church in Maine as far as I know.


Gary Brady said...

You might be interested to know how a remote relative of mine has been enjoying this very book during a six month stint in Baghdad, due to end soon. I remember reading the forst edition myself and finding it a real joy. My father-in-law recently visited Murray's final home in Badbea to see it all shut up and neglected. He also visited the grave nearby.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps we need to start a campaign to "Save Badbea". I have never been able to get far enough north to visit Migdale, by the sound of it I need to go soon before any sign of the place is eradicated.

I think I'll read it again next week, my apetite has been whetted again.


cp said...

Most moving biography I have read. I wept reading the last section. What an encouraging life of grace and faith. Thanks be to God. CP

Unknown said...

Oh, sorry to hear Badbea is closed and neglected, I have happy memories if holidaying there as a child, along with our cousins. It was run by Uncle William, and his two sisters, Joey and Teeny we called them!. Uncle Johnny used to visit us in Inverness when he was home, have to admit I was rather intimidated by him as a child, but in hindsight I believe he was a kind and caring man.