Thursday, 28 February 2013

Scottish origins of the Dutch Reformed Church revival and seminaries in South Africa

Ever heard the names Andrew and John Murray? 

Their father, Rev Andrew Murray was one of several Scottish ministers who came to the Cape of Good Hope in the 19th century and became ministers in the Dutch Reformed Church.

Why was a seminary established at Stellenbosch in 1859?

Andrew and John Murray, who studied in both Aberdeen, Scotland and Utrecht, Holland saw the need for an evangelical and reformed seminary in light of the devastating liberalism in Holland at the time. The latter under the leadership of the likes of the young W.C. Opzoomer from Utrecht, rejected things like Jesus' virgin birth, his miracles, bodily resurrection and uniqueness. Jesus was followed for being a good moral example. Also, God had to be stripped of his personal and supernatural attributes, and became the panentheist god constructed by Karl C.F. Krause, whom Opzoomer followed.

It is always special for me when a British journal publishes good and interesting theological stuff from South Africa. Recently, the reformed Baptist journal Reformation Today (available here at Tyndale House, Cambridge) published an article by Rev Erroll Hulse in which he reflects on the 19th century revival in South Africa in which the Murrays played an important part. Two excerpts:

"Some pinpoint the beginning of the 1860 revival in the Cape to a prayer by Dr Andrew Murray Junior. It was so powerful and moving that it lit fires in the hearts of those present. They took these strong convictions home to share with others.

It is important to note that gifted-pastor preachers were given to the churches in the Cape. The best known of these was Andrew Murray Senior. For over thirty years he had prayed specifically every Saturday night for revival. He had two sons, Andrew and John, both of whom became well-known pastors".

The discussion of the 1902 revival in the Prisoner of War Camps  is absolutely amazing:

"After the Boer War (1899-1902) the Afrikaners found themselves in a depressed and poverty-stricken state. They had lost their farms and suffered terrible loss of life in the notorious prisoner of war camps. 26,400 women and children died in those camps through starvation and epidemics.

During the Boer War which eventually consisted of 400,000 British soldiers seeking to overcome about 80,000 farmers who were skilled marksmen. Captured Boer soldiers were exiled to prisoner of war camps in Ceylon, India, St Helena and Bermuda. It was there that they experienced very remarkable and powerful spiritual revivals.

They did not enjoy telephone or e-mail communication. Research needs to be done to establish the details of these revivals. We do however know how the revival began in Ceylon. Two prisoners engaged in a quarrel.  The British encouraged chaplains to minister to the prisoners and so it was that the resident minister exhorted the two unhappy prisoners to go out to the field that they used for rugby football and there pray together. They heeded this exhortation and came back later with the testimony that the Holy Spirit had fallen on them. The next evening four returned to that spot to pray together. They came back with the same report. This proved to be the beginning of the revival with an ever increasing nightly prayer meeting. When the war ended, it was calculated that 2,000 out of the 5,000 were committed to Christ".

So what happened after the war?

"After the war the seminaries were filled with men who dedicated themselves to the ministry and to missions. A mighty missionary movement spread across Africa. Throughout her history a battle with liberalism has taken place in the NG Kerk. Since the 1950s a downgrade has taken place. The spiritual decline has been catastrophic. Unregenerate liberal professors have been allowed to destroy the faith of the seminary students.  
We must pray that the Lord will give the gift of faithful leaders again. And we must pray that the Afrikaans believers will study their history and again be blessed with spiritual awakening".

Thank you Reformation Today!