In 1978, the Republic of South Africa published a postage stamp commemorating the 150th anniversary of the birth of Andrew Murray. The famous devotional writer, Murrey and his wife Emma, have had a revolutionary missional impact on the life of millions around the world.
Their 48-year marriage was an unlikely cross-cultural love affair. Murray was the son of a Dutch Reformed Church missionary, who was born in Scotland before becoming a missionary in South Africa. His mother, Maria Susanna Stegmann, was of French Huguenot, Dutch, and German Lutheran descent.
Murray’s future wife Emma Rutherford was the daughter of an English missionary serving in Cape town with the London Missionary Society. The Afrikaners/Boers and the English in South Africa were at that time separated by language, culture, religion, and politics.
As a young pastor, Murray was very successful and self-confident. He believed in getting right to the point in everything that he did, including suddenly proposing to Emma. He had only known her for a month. She turned him down flat, saying to her sister Mary, “I think what troubles me is that he seemed so businesslike in a matter of love and marriage.” Murray’s insensitivity reminded us of Mr. Darcey’s proposal to Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice. After much reflection, Murray apologized to Emma. Writing to her sister in India, Emma commented:
“Mr. (Andrew) Murray called on Papa on Saturday, and said that he felt that his conduct had been very wrong, did not seek to excuse it, under any circumstances it had been wrong, but that his mind had been very harassed and pressed…He expressed extreme regret. Papa said he was evidently agitated and his mind overpressed…”
Murray returned to Bloemfontein where he poured himself into his pastoral work. Emma, however, couldn’t stop thinking about him. In her letter to her sister, she wrote:
“Don’t be alarmed about me, though you cannot, not knowing, appreciate the intellect, originality, earnestness and goodness of my friend [Murray]. Yet I never allow my mind to dwell on the subject long without feeling a sort of shudder for a lack of sensitivity on his part inexplicable. And whenever any of his good qualities come in view, still this feeling drives me from relenting in any way…It seems as though my desire for a missionary life can never be realized. I don’t know that I am fitted for it…”
Emma hoped that he would one day get someone else for a good wife, and that he would act differently in proposing to that woman. She began to fear that she herself would never get married, instead ‘becoming moss grown, dank, and rusty’.
Murray wrote her early in 1856, once again asking her forgiveness for past offences.
Emma’s March 20, 1856 letter to Mary spoke of her ‘cold answer to a very kind letter.’
Two weeks later, after receiving another letter from him, she unexpectedly agreed to marry him and to return with him to Bloemfontein.
Her April 5 letter to Mary commented, “He is very romantic in his disposition, even enjoying German poetry and plays.” They married on July 2, 1856.
Four months after their wedding, Emma wrote Mary:
“I am anxious to be a good housekeeper, especially as Andrew never finds fault with anything I do. … He always listens to the smallest little household trouble and tries to find me a remedy and does everything I ask him and gets what I wish. You cannot imagine a more sympathizing, loving husband, so tender and gentle to his wife. … I certainly never knew before I could be so bound to anyone or love anyone so much.”
To better serve the Afrikaners, Emma taught herself to speak Dutch. She started a Sunday school and a weekday school for primary children as well as starting a library. Andrew called Emma a living encyclopedia. Before long, she became the local Dutch Reformed church organist. During the South African revival of 1860, Emma started a prayer meeting which carried on for many decades. Emma and Andrew had eight children together (four boys and four girls.) She loved serving as a missionary with Andrew, saying:
“I have never known such overflowing happiness in my life hitherto…you will think I am always praising my husband. I only wish you knew him; I feel sure you would love him. I certainly never knew before I could be so bound to anyone or love anyone so much.”
Her only sadness was her worry about her husband Andrew’s workaholism: “(He) works too hard and wears himself out…If I am with him he will be obliged to rest.” He was often away in his missionary and evangelistic outreaches. While travelling in an ox cart, it overturned, causing severe injuries to his arm and back. Because of these injuries, Emma became his stenographer for his hundreds of books and booklets. He commented, “Without her fine literary background and enthusiasm for what I wanted to share, there would have been no books.”
When the tragic Anglo/Boer war broke out, Andrew and Emma were very active in seeking reconciliation and meeting the practical needs of widows and orphans. Through the Murrays and their missionary teams, thousands of Boers came to Christ in the internment camps, many becoming missionaries after the war.
When Emma died in 1905, Andrew’s sorrow at the loss of his wife seemed nearly unbearable. After suffering a slight stroke, he recovered, saying to his daughter Annie “I now begin to see the glory of God’s will.” With Annie’s assistance, Murray went on to produce five more books and sixteen shorter works from 1909 to 1913. His closing exhortation, before his death in 1917, was “Child of God, let your Father lead you. Think not of what you can do, but of what God can do in you and through you.”
May God call forth many more romantic missionary couples like Andrew & Emma Murray.