The Homecall of John J. Murray
The death of any of God’s saints is a bittersweet occasion. It is a bitter experience to lose from our fellowship those who love Christ. But it is a sweet comfort to know that they are with Christ in glory. This is how many of us now feel when we reflect on the godly life of John J. Murray who was called home to his eternal rest on April 1st of this year. He was 85 years of age.
John Murray was a friend of so many of those who read the books and attended the conferences of the Banner of Truth Trust.
He was born in Lonemore near Dornoch in the Scottish Highlands in September 1934. As a teenager he read Thomas Boston’s Fourfold State and other excellent religious books. He heard a sermon preached in his home area by Professor John Murray of America in 1953 on John 6:37. The effect was that John J.’s life was changed. He now saw the centrality of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, and the glory of Christ’s death on the cross.
He moved to Edinburgh in 1955 to work for Caledonian Insurance. But his heart was set on promoting the gospel. In 1955 he started a small magazine with the title of Eternal Truth to call people back to the old truths that were once so loved in Scotland. One of those who saw it was Iain Murray, who in 1955 had started the Banner of Truth magazine in Oxford. As a result Iain Murray invited John J. Murray to London to help with the work of the Banner of Truth in a letter in 1960.
John J. found digs in the Foreign Missions Club and joined the Free Church in London. He attended Westminster Chapel on Friday evenings and was greatly influenced by Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones as he preached through Romans.
In 1960 he preached his first sermon in the Free Church of Scotland in London. His text was Hosea 9:8-9. This text reflected John Murray’s zeal for repentance and a return to Reformation preaching. In 1962 he was made an elder in the London Free Church. This gave him the opportunity to invite the Rev. Kenneth MacRae of Stornoway, whom he so much admired, to preach in London.
In 1966 he married Cynthia MacPhee, from Fort William who was working as a nanny in London. They had three children, two girls and a boy. After studies for the ministry, in 1978 John J. was inducted as minister to the Free Church in Oban, on the west coast of Scotland. His young ministry was overshadowed by the death of his oldest daughter Lynda of a brain tumour in December 1980. Ten years later he wrote a booklet called Behind a Frowning Providence. This was widely appreciated and read.
In 1989 he was called to the ministry of the St. Columba’s Free Church of Scotland in Edinburgh. These years were difficult times in the Free Church denomination. There was a serious concern which led to the denomination dividing into two: Free Church and Free Church (Continuing). John J. Murray adhered to the FCC, where he preached until retirement in 2002. On retirement he moved to Glasgow where he was still busy with preaching and writing booklets. One of these books , Catch the Vision, published in 2007 by EP was in many ways his seminal work and it recorded his conviction that the zeal for reformed theology and books in the 1960’s did not convert into a lasting reformation and revival. His zeal to promote godliness took him abroad on many occasions to preach the gospel.
In October 2019 the family had the sad experience of losing their second daughter Anna, who contracted pancreatic cancer in February 2018. All who knew him and his family were aware that he, as a father, was now deeply grieved. But he did all he could to serve Christ still, even though he struggled with depression to the end of his life after the death of his daughter. Thankfully he had the comfort of his beloved wife and dear son Andrew, who has written of his father on his blog Ragged Theology.
I am deeply grateful to John J. Murray. I first met him in the early 1960s when he was preaching at the Free Church of Scotland in London and he remained a friend, colleague and example until the Lord took him to glory.
May the Lord bless to us the theology for which John J. Murray stood. May his prayers be answered that our churches be revived and Reformed, so that in all things God may be glorified and our precious nation be blessed.
Sharon James, Social Policy Analyst for the Christian Institute, whose Father Erroll Hulse was a close friend of John J., has written:
John J. Murray’s long and faithful ministry, was characterised by a robust God-centred theology, warm devotion to Christ and a tender concern for others.
Back in the 1960s during the early days of the Banner of Truth Trust, he was part of a young team who were united in a passionate concern to get solid biblical truth out as widely as possible. That passion for the glory of God, the building up of the church, and the extension of the kingdom to all nations never left him.
‘Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord. They rest from their labours and their works do follow them’.
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