John Murray’s commentary on the book of Romans has long been considered the answer book for biblical expositors when they come to study the grand epistle. So when I see a biography come along that introduces me to the man behind the works like his Romans commentary and Redemption, Accomplished and Applied, I am helplessly drawn in.
The Life of John Murray is what we have come to expect from Ian Murray (no relation to John). It is a well-written enjoyable chronicle of the life of a significant evangelical player. Ian Murray is able to give us many details without drowning us in peripherals.
John Murray grew up in Scotland and served his country in the military during the first World War, even loosing an eye from a shrapnel blast. In journeying through Murray’s life it becomes clear that his family and country are tattooed on his innermost affections. Throughout his four decades in America he made over twenty trips over the Atlantic to see his family.
Murray attended Princeton Seminary from 1924-27 and became acquainted with J. Gresham Machen. Eventually Machen would leave Princeton to start Westinster Seminary in Philadelphia. It was there that Murray came alongside of Machen and others to formulate an All-Star faculty. In addition to Machen, Murray also joined Cornelius Van Til on the staff.
I am always so intrigued by these men’s personal lives, particularly their devotional lives. A reoccurring comment by those who encountered Murray was upon his intensely passionate and consistent spiritual devotion. This of course permeated his teaching at the seminary. Ian Murray comments,
“Although he might have delivered the same material many times before, he always prepared himself afresh. He wanted his subject to master both his mind and his spirit and from his opening words of prayer students knew that the work before them was more than the exercise of a classroom. ‘Fear of God dominated Professor Murray’s classroom, recalls Walter J. Chantry. ‘Each period began with prayer from the professor’s lips which brought all into the presence of an awesome God. Each subject was handled in a dignified and solemn manner that conveyed deep reverence for the Almighty. Professor Murray breathed the attitude that all things in his lectures were holy and majestic. Not a study of the fear of God but the professor’s visible and audible manifestation of that fear, became a main lesson for his young disciples.’
Throughout Murray’s teaching career he recommended that his students study the Puritans for the unrivaled depth dealing with various theological subjects. However he did not recommend their commentaries. Ian Murray concludes that this is due to Murray’s firm rooting in the biblical languages. Murray had “the conviction that doctrine must be arrived at through a painstaking examination of the Scriptures in their original languages. While the Puritans themselves held that view, the greater exegetical precision of the more modern commentators was scarcely known to them. At Princeton, then, Murray’s commitment to the Reformed faith was not changed, but it became, in a new way, rooted in the Bible itself.”
John Murray’s day was not unlike our own. In particular a cry for unity among those who do not have identical doctrinal statements. In the midst of pursuing biblical unity Murray contended that if confessions were established and if unity in ministry (in this case a conference or fellowship—Leicester Ministers’ Conference) was to accomplish anything then it must be consistently Calvinistic. He was excited about the partnership that was ensuing with folks from among Presbyterians, Baptists, and Congregationalists but insisted that it must be forged on a common understanding of the gospel.
“He [Murray] argued that it is the duty of all churches to bear witness to the whole counsel of God; that duty belongs equally to Christians whose understanding of the doctrines of grace must be termed Arminian; and therefore, if such a divergence is to be allowed within and among churches in regular association, it is patently liable to become ‘the occasion for disputes that frustrate the unity and dissolve the bond of peace which the church must maintain and display’. ‘Though Reformed evangelicals and non-Reformed evangelicals may embrace one another in love, in the bond of fellowship with Christ, and corporate in many activities that promote the kingdom of God and the interests of Christ’s church, yet it is not feasible, and not feasible in terms of commitment to Christ and to the whole counsel of God, to unite in creedal confession as the bond and symbol of ecclesiastical communion.’
Murray remained at Westminster until 1966. He then returned to his native Scotland, married, had children and then died in 1974.
This was an enjoyable, informative and encouraging read. I am truly thankful for Ian Murray’s careful and diligent work in producing this literary documentary of one of the church’s hard working and faithful laborers.
You may order your copy at the Banner of Truth online store (here).