Thursday, 27 December 2018

John J Murray: An Enduring Legacy

At the service to mark my fathers 40 years in the ministry (see blog article here) I said that I thought my father had left me six enduring legacies.  These are personal reflections and much more could be written.  I will leave that to others but these are my own reflections.  

1.  The Legacy of a Big God.  When I came back from university in 1995 and launched out into the choppy seas of social work I was so thankful to be under my Dad's preaching.  As I saw the horror of abuse, trauma, violence and brokenness in my career, Dad directed me towards a God who was sovereign, in control and who had a purpose.  He preached God in all his fullness, majesty and glory.  It was impossible to sit under Dad's ministry and not hear the Westminster Confession and Catechisms coming through in his preaching.  His theology was God centred.  He cared little for fads and trends in Christian theology.

I have recently been reading 'Lloyd Jones - Messenger of Grace'  by Iain H Murray.  Under a section 'Christianity is God-centred Religion' he quotes Lloyd Jones as saying:

The Bible is the record of the activity of God. God is the actor.  God is the centre.  Everything is of God and comes from God, and turns to God.  It is God who speaks.  It is God who acts.  It is God who intervenes.  It is God who originates, who plans everything everywhere.

This has been my Dad's emphasis.  The gospel brings us back to God.  If God is who He says He is then He must be at the centre of our worship, our preaching our family life and our nation.  

2.  The Legacy of an Attractive Saviour.  It is only as I have been reading and re-reading Sinclair Ferguson's book 'The Whole Christ' that I have come to realise some of the issues that my Dad has been contending with over the last 40 (and particularly the last 18) years.  Dad is a 'Marrow man' to the core (the Marrow of Modern Divinity).  He has strongly resisted the emphasis that has come in over the last few years (sometimes unconsciously) that teaches a conditional grace like the Pharisees taught.  This tincture has infected some ministries and has resulted in a harshness in pastoral care and a strong emphasis on non essentials.  Being seen to do the right thing is often more important than doing the right thing.  Unfortunately I hear all too often from the victims of these ministries.

Christ must never be separated from his benefits and must always be offered fully and freely to every sinner as 'deed of gift and grant, or authentic gospel offer' (Fisher, Marrow of Modern Divinity).  I don't doubt that God is dealing in judgement with our nation but the Free Church I grew up in has been guilty of often preaching a very unattractive gospel and unappealing Saviour.  So many of my contemporaries have been driven from church by a rigidity and coldness that is not Christ-like.  Wherever grace is preached there should be warmth, love and hope.  Too many ministries have lacked these characteristics and instead preached a cold orthodoxy.  Perfect love casts out fear and wherever there is fear there is painfulness (I John 4 v 18 - Geneva Bible).

I am thankful my father preached free grace.  He loves Thomas Boston and the Erskine brothers and their emphasis on the 'free offer.'  Grace originates from the heart of God the father in an eternity past therefore our salvation is secure.  The father does not love us reluctantly and is persuaded to save us by Christ.  God's love for sinners flows from this eternal will and when this pervades a ministry it makes all the difference.  As John Owen says:

How few of the saints are experimentally acquainted with this privilege of holding immediate communion with the Father in love!  With what anxious, doubtful thoughts do they look upon Him!  What fears, what questionings are there of His good will and kindness!  At the best, many think that there is no sweetness at all in God towards us, but what is purchased at the high price of the blood of Jesus.  It is true, that that alone is the way of communication: but the free fountain and spring of all is in the bosom of the father (1 John 1 v 2).

The gospel is not only true but in Jesus it must also be beautiful.  Grace makes a person kind, loving, patient and beautiful.  Too often Christians we can be harsh, twisted and 'sanctified be vinegar.'  I am thankful that my father always presented a beautiful Jesus through his preaching and example.  This lead him to love everyone who loved the same Saviour.  My Dad is largely free of a partisan and sectarian spirit and was grieved at younger men who in their zeal for the truth seemed to confuse what were primary and secondary issues.

3.  A Legacy of Love for the Truth - My Dad has always highly esteemed the word of God.  I don't think I've ever heard my Dad preach without being well prepared.  The Bible is important to him both for his life and for his preaching. The Authorised (King James) version has become one of the great points of orthodoxy over the last 20 years yet we were brought up on the NIV which my Dad enthusiastically read at family worship to help us understand the scriptures.  I have a deep love for the King James version (and an even greater love for the Geneva Bible) but this has never been a defining issue for my Dad.  How many of my own generation were brought up with the Scriptures being read and preached who had little or no understanding?  I am so thankful that Dad taught me the Bible with understanding and love. 

Dad and I have often discussed the essence of preaching.  Dad would often say to me that preaching is very different from lecturing.  With the former you are aiming primarily at the will, with the latter you are primarily aiming at the head.  He often spoke about preaching being like a hammer striking a nail into the heart.  You strike it again and again throughout a sermon to drive it in to the heart as you seek (by the Spirit) to move the will.  A great love for truth means that it must be preached with passion and understanding.

4.  A Legacy of Family Religion - Only now as a father of 5 boys do I understand how difficult parenting is.  During these last few months my Dad has spoken of regrets that he didn't spend more time with us growing up.  Life in the manse was busy, Dad was always needed somewhere.  But Dad always prioritised family worship.  It was a time to catch up as a family.  The Bible and prayer were at the centre of our family life and it is something I have continued with my own family.  Watching my father get down on his knees to pray every night has left an enduring legacy of the need for daily prayer.  Our home was also a place of hospitality and many generations of students remember our manse with great fondness as a second home.

It is easy to be critical of our parents but when you become a parent you realise how complex parenting is.  As a father, work demands our time, church can demand endless responsibilities, we must balance the books and we must spend time with our wife.  To maintain this over 40, 50 or 60 or years is a huge challenge.  My Dad would be the first to admit his regrets but he is an example of patient consistency both as a husband and a father. I wish my father had invested in a hobby, embraced music and wider culture.  Like so many of his generation her found theatre, the cinema and public sporting events to be places incompatible with a consistent Christian walk.  He may have a point but how we have wished as a family in this last year that our father had a hobby or interest to distract him during a time of great stress.  

Perhaps the greatest compliment is that the faith my Dad has preached so faithfully has now been handed on to his grandchildren which is perhaps the greatest legacy any father and grandfather can have.

5.  A Legacy of Good Books - Growing up in Oban I used to go in to my Dad's study and look at all his books and feel so sorry for him.  I used to hate books and wondered who Dad would give them all to when he was older.  All this changed when I was around 19 and Dad gave me the Memoirs and Remains of Robert Murray McCheyne before I went to university.  Over the next few years I came to love many of the books my Dad has been so involved in republishing since the 1960's.  I came to see that the doctrines of grace were in fact Biblical Christianity. Books (and particularly old books) are now a huge part of my life.  I don't have any empirical evidence but I suspect I have the largest selection of Dr Thomas Guthrie first edition books in the country!  This is down to my Dad's legacy and love for for books.

6.  A Legacy of Endurance and Consistency - Dad believes the same truths at the end of his ministry as he did when he set out all those decades ago.  He has resisted the ebb and flow of different theological fads, contemporary man centred worship, evangelistic gimmicks and the slide towards ecumenical compromise.  He embodies 2 Timothy 4 v 7 - he has finished his course, he has run the race and kept the faith.  Dad is his own harshest critic.  He would be the first to recount his weaknesses and inconsistencies. Dad has tried to point people to a glorious God, to invite people to a wonderful Saviour and to call a church back to the truths that once made it great.

Knightswood FCC were incredibly generous to my mother and father and we want to say a huge thank you to everyone who contributed.  For all the greetings that were sent to Dad we want to say how hugely grateful we are as a family.  This last year has been difficult for us and we value your prayers.  We give thanks for my Dad's rich legacy to us as a family and to the wider church.  Dad is acutely aware that we are all unprofitable servants but we serve a God who is able to use earthen vessels to draw sinners to Himself and bring glory to His name.  

When I visited my Dad just prior to coming to receive his presentation I asked if he wanted me to share a verse.  He asked me to share Psalm 16 v 8 'I have set the Lord always before me: for he is at my right hand therefore I shall not slide' (Geneva Bible).  My father can testify to the goodness of God upholding and blessing his ministry and keeping him from slipping.  For those of us who follow him we hope we can be worthy of his legacy which he handed down to us.

1 comment: