Interview with Iain Murray

Iain H. Murray, born in Lancashire, England, in 1931 was educated in the Isle of Man and at the University of Durham. He entered the Christian ministry in 1955. He served as assistant to Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones at Westminster Chapel (1956-59) and subsequently at Grove Chapel, London (1961-69) and St. Giles Presbyterian Church, Sydney (1981-84). In intervening periods he has worked full-time with the Banner of Truth Trust, of which organisation he was the co-founder (with Jack Cullum) in 1957 and remains the Editorial Director. He is the author of numerous books, including The Life of A. W. Pink, Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography, The Life of D. M. Lloyd-Jones: 2 Volumes, Pentecost Today: Understanding Revival, and Revival & Revivalism: The Making and Marring of American Evangelicalism: 1750-1858, Wesley and the Men who Followed, and Scottish Christian Heritage. The Old Evangelicalism: Old Truths for a New Awakening, and Evangelicalism Divided.

Mr. Murray was interviewed by Men for Ministry, and here shares some of his thoughts about preaching, reading, the call to ministry, and the state of Bible teaching within the UK and US.

1.Could you tell us briefly about your own call to preach and teach God’s Word?

Strangely, I believed my destiny was to be a Christian minister before I was converted although no relatives were so engaged. But I did not speak of this to others – for my life was inconsistent – before I came to know Christ at the age of seventeen.

2. How do you believe men are called to a preaching ministry? Can you suggest any tests that an individual can apply to themselves regarding whether they are gifted in this area or not?

I believe God puts a concern upon men’s hearts, which is shown by their taking every opportunity to serve and speak for Christ; perhaps first to a Sunday School class (as Spurgeon) or in visiting an Old People’s Home. There must be desire for the work – a pull stronger than any other pull – and the subjective needs testing by the counsel of older Christians and a local church.

3. Would you mark any differences between evangelical attitudes to preaching in the UK and in the USA? If so, what are they?

There are a great many variations in the US, as there are here. I do not think I could generalise. In both countries there has been a danger that Calvinistic preaching has not been distinguished by evangelistic concern and passion. ‘Expository preaching’ has moved too far from the type of preaching we find in Spurgeon’s sermons; the danger is that it becomes like a weekly commentary on a passage (rather than a text) of Scripture.

4. Recently almost fifty men from our Association of Baptist Churches in Ireland attended a seminar dealing with the issues of ‘the primacy of preaching’ and ‘the passion for preaching’. What are your thoughts on these two issues as applied to the work of God in the UK presently?

I have partly covered this. I believe that true passion for preaching arises, by the Holy Spirit, through love of the people we are serving. It is more important to love people than to love preaching! That means that pastoral work should never be downgraded. Read Hobson’s work in Liverpool1 as an example of pastoral zeal.

5. Many of your books, particularly your celebrated two volume biography of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, continue to influence many preachers. Which books have most blessed and enriched your own preaching?

I find this hard to answer. I do believe that God directs books into our hands as we need them, and our need varies at different stages of our lives and ministries. As a young Christian I was much helped by Andrew Bonar’s Life of M’Cheyne; the latter’s sermons; Merle D’Aubigné on the Reformation ( thrilling stuff!); Jonathan Edwards, and several of the Puritans (notably Thomas Brooks and John Owen). Later, I came to prize Spurgeon. His All-Round Ministry is a wonderful book for a young pastor, as is his Commenting and Commentaries.

6. What effect has postmodernism had on preaching in recent years? How do you feel preachers can best respond to it?

I never did understand what postmodernism is! I doubt the helpfulness of such labels and think they are greatly overdone. The natural man is basically the same in every generation: that is why the scriptures are more relevant and up-to-date than any other document. The first business of preaching is not to address intellectual problems but to reach the heart and conscience. One of our great dangers is the constant preaching of salvation by faith in Christ to numbers who have never truly been smitten with a sense of sin. I try to deal with that subject in The Old Evangelicalism.

7. How can a preacher who is concerned with being theologically and exegetically precise in their preaching avoid the danger of becoming dry and academic in their presentation of God’s Word?

Keep visiting the sick and the dying; that will keep ‘scholarship’ in second place. And beware of being concerned about what people think of our preaching. The great aim of preaching must be to do good to our hearers, good for eternity.

8. If you could give a young preacher three essential pieces of advice as they embark on teaching God’s Word, what would they be?

Guard you inner life; love people but keep a healthy distrust of human nature; make faith in God’s promises the daily duty.

9. Your book Evangelicalism Divided has been a seminal work in terms of gauging the spiritual climate of the evangelical world during the past fifty years. One common issue that a variety of critics have picked up on is your absence of reference to the ‘Proclamation Trust’. How would you assess their work and influence on pulpit ministry in the United Kingdom in recent decades?

Yes , I think there is weight in the comment of critics on this point. I should have made it clearer, I was not attempting a history of evangelicalism in the last 50 years. I think one reason why the Proclamation Trust has gained respect and support is that leaders, such as Dick Lucas, were not associated with the comprehensive/ecumenical policy that I criticised. I am sorry I cannot speak more of the Trust from experience. I think the practical advice and direction that the Proclamation Trust has given on preaching has been helpful to many; though I would have reservation lest the method advocated leads too much to a kind of running commentary on Scripture, which is not the same as preaching. There is danger in seeing preaching primarily as giving instruction; whereas, as Lloyd-Jones used to say, the primary need is to give our hearers stimulus, so they will eagerly want to read and learn themselves. Strong churches need more than just a weekly diet of teaching.

10. Could you tell us of a time when God particularly touched and challenged your heart through the preaching of another? (We know there will be many instances to choose from!)

A few weeks ago I was much uplifted and helped by listening to a man who was entirely unknown to me, and perhaps to the world at large. It reminded me forcibly that God has his men, and that those who faithfully preach Scripture, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, are certain to do good.

– Iain Murray

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