Category Archives: Iain Murray

John MacArthur: Servant of the Word and Flock

John MacArthur: Servant of the Word and Flock

By Iain H. Murray

The Banner of Truth Trust: 2011

“Servant of the Word and Flock” is an apt subtitle for Iain Murray’s new biography of John MacArthur. The book leaves us convinced that no ministry is as important to MacArthur as serving his church by teaching and preaching God’s word. Murray points out that the one stipulation Dr. MacArthur made when accepting the call to Grace Community Church “was that he be allowed thirty hours a week for study.”

“Surely one of the greatest strengths of MacArthur’s preaching ministry is his complete confidence in the text,” Murray writes. MacArthur would take this as a compliment. “When I started ministry,” he says, “I committed myself to expository preaching, just explaining the Bible, because I know that there was nothing I could say that was anywhere near as important as what God had to say.”

Though MacArthur has served Grace Community Church for over forty years, and attendance is in the thousands, if all that he did was preach, most of us wouldn’t know his name. But that’s not the case; MacArthur writes more books than most Christians read. Murray gives ample attention to these as well as the controversy that sometimes follows (as in the case of The Gospel According to Jesus, which sparked the so-called Lordship Controversy). Because these books, including MacArthur’s Study Bible and New Testament Commentaries, are translated in dozens of languages and shipped over the world, often at no cost to the recipient, MacArthur ministers to millions whom he has never met. That doesn’t count those who listen to his sermons, free of charge, compliments of Grace to You.

Murray’s book concentrates more on MacArthur’s work than on the man himself. Still, we read about MacArthur’s past, his childhood, and how he was shaped by his father and grandfather. We read of his humility—when the only rental car available was a Cadillac, he chose to walk the last several blocks to his appointment so as not to send the wrong message. We read about his love for others, especially his family: “The family is the one environment where your devotion, faithfulness, and consistency matter most,” wrote MacArthur. Murray even dedicates an entire chapter to MacArthur’s wife, Patricia, of whom MacArthur wrote: “For every grief I ever caused her, she has given me a thousand blessings in return.” Murray shows that, as one of MacArthur’s friends said, “His greatest sermon is his life.”

While Murray’s appreciation for his subject is obvious, the book is by no means an exercise in hero-worship. Murray addresses MacArthur’s failures and sometimes disagrees with his beliefs. One preacher from Brazil speaks for many when he wonders how MacArthur can be “soteriologically reformed and dispensational at the same time.” Though Murray doesn’t dwell long on his disagreement with MacArthur’s views regarding the end times, he does state them, and he observes that a literal interpretation of Old Testament prophecy is inconsistent with the way the New Testament writers often interpreted Scripture.

Murray tells us twice that these 240 pages are “little more than a sketch; this is not the time, nor I the writer, to give a full portrait.” While it may not end up being the most complete biography, it is hard to imagine that there will be one as well-written and interesting. We do, however, have reason to agree that “this is not the time.” Though MacArthur turns 72 on the nineteenth day of this month (June 2011), he has no plans to retire:

“As the Lord permits, I hope to continue teaching God’s word and shepherding His flock until the day I go to be with Him.”

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Banner of Truth in exchange for an honest review.

Review: John Knox and the Reformation

John Knox and the Reformation

D.M. Lloyd-Jones & Iain H. Murray

The Banner of Truth Trust: 2011

In an address given in Edinburgh in 1960, Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “perhaps the greatest of all the lessons of the Protestant Reformation is that the way of recovery is always to go back, back to the primitive pattern, to the origin, to the norm and standard which are to be found alone in the New Testament.” That the speaker was guided by faithfulness to “the norm and standard” found in the New Testament is evident in his writings, which is why I love reading him and am delighted that his work is still published years after his death.

Lloyd-Jones’s biographer, Iain H. Murray, is another advocate of looking back, and is another whose writings I can’t resist. With the Banner of Truth’s recent release of John Knox and the Reformation, I had the privilege to read both men in one book.

This short but valuable title consists of three chapters. “Remembering the Reformation” and “John Knox: the Founder of Puritanism” are addresses that Lloyd-Jones gave in 1960 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Reformation in Scotland. The third chapter is Iain Murray’s “John Knox and ‘The Battle’,” which is a biographical sketch of Knox that concentrates on his efforts to reform the church in Scotland.

John Knox and the Reformation is published for the 500th anniversary of the birth of Knox (2014), but not out of a “purely antiquarian or historical motive.” As Lloyd-Jones says, “the times in which we are living are too urgent and too desperate for us to indulge a mere antiquarian spirit.” Rather, “we look at these men in order that we may learn from them, and imitate and emulate their example.” He supports his view with Hebrews 13:7: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”

Though Knox was, and still is, an object of controversy, there’s no denying that God used him greatly. Murray writes: “The only true explanation of Knox’s preaching is in words he applied to others of his fellow countrymen, ‘God gave his Holy Spirit to simple men in great abundance.’” Of a sermon that Knox preached to discouraged Protestant forces after beaten by the French, one man said, “The voice of one man is able in one hour to put more life in us than five hundred trumpets continually blustering in our ears.”

But again, the aim of this book isn’t to teach us about Knox, but to help us to learn from Knox. Lloyd-Jones and Murray each spell out the lessons that we can glean and apply to our day, and we would be wise to take heed.

When I asked what I should read for spiritual growth, a pastor and mentor told me that other than the Bible, he benefitted most from the biographies of great Christians. I’ve found this to be true for myself, and especially true of Iain Murray’s works. John Knox and the Reformation is no exception.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from The Banner of Truth Trust in exchange for an honest review.

The Forgotten Spurgeon by Iain Murray

The Forgotten Spurgeon

Iain Murray

Banner of Truth

Charles Spurgeon is one of the most quoted preachers of the past. Thousands still read his sermons and writings. Yet few, according to Iain Murray, remember Spurgeon’s theology. And even fewer remember his willingness to defend it. The Forgotten Spurgeon is not a normal biography. Instead, Murray’s book focuses on the three major controversies of Spurgeon’s ministry: his stand for historic Calvinism while at New Park Street in the 1850s, his involvement in the baptismal regeneration debate of 1864, and the Down-Grade controversy of 1887-1891.

Spurgeon’s biographers make special note of his popularity while at New Park Street Baptist. Hundreds were turned away each Sunday as the building overflowed with eager listeners. But the doctrine that Spurgeon preached, and the persecution and criticism that he endured because of it, is seldom mentioned. Spurgeon’s Calvinism was a favorite target of the public, news media, and even other pastors. This continued, in fact, throughout his entire ministry. He often felt alone in his defense of what he considered the only true gospel. Others also saw him as standing alone. One wrote: “[Spurgeon] was out of step with everyone else, because John Calvin’s ghost ‘rode him like a nightmare.’ ” The prevailing opinion, however, did nothing to modify Spurgeon’s defense of the gospel. On one hand he opposed the hyper-Calvinist belief that the gospel should only be preached to the elect. On the other hand, he saw Arminianism as destroying the whole system of theology, promoting superficiality and false assurance, and downplaying true conversion. To Spurgeon, this was more than a question of non-essentials.

The second controversy Murray deals with is the baptismal regeneration debate of 1864. The church of England was moving in a direction that evangelicals considered unacceptable. Much debate centered on questions concerning the use and meaning of the Book of Common Prayer. Spurgeon took the prayer book as a whole to task, arguing that it had no scriptural authority. But his main protest was against the Anglican’s growing acceptance of the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. To men like Spurgeon and the Anglican Bishop J.C. Ryle, this signified a “returning to Rome.”

The Down-Grade controversy lasted from 1887 until Spurgeon’s death in 1891. As higher criticism gained popularity among Protestants, a disregard for Scriptural authority and denial of Scriptural inspiration also grew, especially within the Baptist churches. Spurgeon’s main question now was whether believers should associate with those who advance such error. His conclusion? “Fellowship with known and vital error is participation in sin.” In 1887, Spurgeon withdrew from the Baptist Union. Rather than influencing any of his contemporaries, Spurgeon received a “vote of censure” from the Baptist council. It was this controversy in which Spurgeon was most alone, and in which he drew the most criticism. Regarding it, he remarked to a friend that “The fight is killing me.” He died a few months later.

Spurgeon had no desire to be divisive or controversial. He longed, instead, for the day when all believers could worship in unity. His willingness to take a strong stand against error came from “a spirit of compassion towards those who, not only in his own generation, but in ages to come, might be fatally deceived in receiving a gospel which is not a gospel. (Gal. 1:7).” He leaves us with a question that remains applicable today: “Shall truth be sold to keep up a wider fellowship?”

The Forgotten Spurgeon is terrific, though it isn’t an easy book. Murray takes us deep into the finer points of Spurgeon’s theology. For those interested in more than Spurgeon’s methods or personality, and for those who enjoy topics such as vicarious atonement, propitiation, or scriptural inspiration, I highly recommend it. Not only does it teach us about Spurgeon’s deepest convictions, but through his resolution, it encourages us to take a stand for the truth.

Spurgeon on True Faith

“Those people who have a faith which allows them to think lightly of past sin, have the faith of devils, and not the faith of God’s elect….Such who think sin a trifle and have never sorrowed on account of it, may know that their faith is not genuine. Such men as have a faith which allows them to live carelessly in the present, who say, ‘Well, I am saved by a simple faith’,…and enjoy the carnal pleasures and the lusts of the flesh, such men are liars; they have not the faith which will save the soul….Oh! if any of you have such faith as this, I pray God to turn it out bag and baggage,”

Charles Spurgeon quoted in Iain Murray’s The Forgotten Spurgeon.

Review: The Life of Arthur W Pink

The Life of Arthur W Pink

Iain Murray

Banner of Truth (2004)

Few noticed when Arthur Pink died in July of 1952; only a handful was present when he was laid to rest. In his life, he had written, besides many books, over 2,000 articles for his periodical, Studies in the Scriptures, which was published every month from 1922 to 1953. Pink also hand wrote over 20,000 personal letters. And he preached in several countries, on several continents, and in churches of nearly every protestant denomination. Despite all of this, few knew him. But Pink did not care to be known. As long as he helped others know Jesus Christ, he was satisfied.

Who was Arthur Pink? Iain Murray calls him “one of the most influential evangelical authors in the second half of the twentieth century.” Within two decades of his death, people couldn’t get enough of his writings. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, late pastor of Westminster Chapel (whose biography Murray gives us in two excellent volumes), gave a fellow preacher the following advice: “Don’t waste your time reading Barth and Brunner. You will get nothing from them to aid you with preaching. Read Pink.”

Pink’s influence is reason enough for a biography, but Murray adds that “The life of Pink tells us much that is for the glory of God. No Christian can know him without appreciation and profit.” It has been with much profit that this reviewer has read The Life of Arthur W Pink three times since the revised edition was published in 2004, and it wouldn’t be a waste to read it three more times.

Murray takes us through the life of Pink, from his birth in Nottingham (yes, near Sherwood Forest) to his last days in Stornoway. The author gives special attention to Pink’s writings and studies, but no aspect of his Christian life is ignored. We feel, after reading this work, that we do know Arthur Pink. And whether we share all of his convictions or not, we can’t help but be sympathetic, inspired, and humbled.

Murray has gone to great pains to give us this balanced picture of Arthur Pink. Besides his published writings, Murray has made use of innumerable personal letters both to and from Pink, and he has spent hours interviewing those who knew him. Murray’s expert knowledge of Church history, especially that of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, gives him great insight into the theological and ecclesiastical issues that surrounded Pink. And though he has a deep respect for his protagonist, he doesn’t hesitate to discuss his weaknesses.

No doubt Pink was, and is, controversial. He was too blunt in his speech and writing. He sometimes seemed unfriendly. He spent much of his time in isolation. And he was very often misunderstood—a “hyper-Calvinist” to some, a legalistic “free-willer” to others; too reformed for the Baptists, and too Baptist for the Presbyterians. He was, like all of us, a sinner, as he would be the first to point out. But he was also a saint—a saint who cared deeply about the glory of God, and a saint who was used greatly for the glory of God.

Some of the most edifying books I have read have been Iain Murray’s biographies. I’m especially grateful for this one, which has enabled me to know the man whose writings I have benefited from for years. If you enjoy reading about the lives of men and women who have been greatly used by God, you will love this book.

A Newly Converted Arthur Pink

From Chapter 1 of The Life of Arthur W Pink by Iain H Murray…

Before his conversion, Pink was a diligent student. After the conversion, his focus of study changed. He immediately loved reading and studying the Word of God.

For the next two years Pink spent all of his spare time in his bedroom reading. He read at least ten chapters of the Bible a day, and then spent time with a more in-depth study of one chapter. He also memorized a verse a day, later writing that, “The writer memorised the whole epistle of Ephesians on the street-car, a verse at a time.”

Pink immediately felt that he was called to be God’s servant. The seminaries in Europe at that time were liberal. Pink was not willing to enroll in one. As Iain Murray writes, “Having already been trained in one school of unbelief he had no intention of entering another.”

Instead, Pink sailed across the ocean to enroll in Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute. He spent six weeks there before he told the school officials that he “desired to enter the pastorate without further delay, that [he] felt [he] was ‘wasting [his] time’ at the institute.”

In July of 1910, Pink became pastor of the Congregational church in the small town of Silverton, Colorado, where he stayed for two years.

Do you think that Pink’s refusal of formal theological education helped or hurt him?

You can see my other posts on this book here.

My full review of this book was posted on Discerning Reader. You can read it here. DR editor Mark Tubbs calls this book “The definitive biography of one of the most influential Evangelical authors of the twentieth century.”

The Conversion of Arthur W Pink

The Life of Arthur W Pink, Chapter 1

“A Spiritualist Medium Becomes a Christian”

Pink was born in Nottingham in 1886 to devout Christian parents. The Lord’s Day was reverenced in their home: “When we were little all our toys were put away on Saturday night and pictorial editions of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, etc. where brought out.” Pink’s father conducted family worship every day in their home, but especially on the Lord’s Day. “No Sunday newspapers ever entered our home.”

Iain Murray relates that Arthur Pink and his two siblings, despite their parent’s efforts, drifted into unbelief. In his early twenties, Pink became heavily involved in Theosophy, a cult which claims “divine wisdom.” This “special knowledge,” along with curiosity aroused from the prospect of communicating with the dead, was appealing to many, including C.S. Lewis and G. Whitfield Guinness. Pink was such a loyal Theosophist that he was invited to India, where he would become one of the cult’s chiefs.

Late one evening in 1908, when Pink was 22, he came home from one of his meetings and rushed by his father on his way upstairs. As he went by, his father quoted Proverbs 14:12: “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” Pink shut his door, but he could not shut the verse out of his mind. When he opened his door three days later, he was a Christian.

Note: All quotes are taken from The Life of Arthur W Pink by Iain H Murray. You can see my other posts on this book here.

Blogging Through The Life of Arthur W Pink

Iain H Murray is one of my favorite authors. He wrote many of my favorite biographies, including the one which I am re-reading now: The Life of Arthur W Pink.

Pink has, in lots of ways, been misunderstood. Many say that he was divisive, which I believe is unfair. Of course, faithfully preaching the whole council of God is divisive. And Pink certainly didn’t hold back in his writing or preaching. John MacArthur says that he “often wrote with an acid pen.” But his intention was never to win a debate or start a battle. He certainly wasn’t a “schismatic,” as some claim. Murray says in his preface:

The real Pink was a man who could write ‘We should view God’s children, separated as they now are by party partitions and denominational walls, as members of the same family, and sharing a common interest. Let our hearts embrace and our prayers include the entire household of faith.’

Who was Pink? MacArthur gives a concise introduction:

Arthur W. Pink was a largely self-taught classic Reformed theologian. He wrote and distributed short studies on theological and biblical topics through a monthly magazine, Studies in the Scriptures. His understanding of Scripture and ability to express himself in writing are legendary (MacArthur, The Gospel According to the Apostles).

Iain Murray describes him as “one of the most influential evangelical authors in the second half of the twentieth century.”

I was first introduced to Pink about fifteen years ago. A Primitive Baptist pastor of the old-school type took a special interest in me. We spent a lot of time together discussing the Scriptures and church matters. One evening, he led me into his garage, where there were several large boxes of books by reformed writers. Hundreds of books. Not being familiar with the authors at the time, I didn’t realize what I treasure I was being offered, so I went home with just a few volumes–a book of sermons by Jonathan Edwards, Sermons on Sovereignty by Spurgeon, a complete set of Gill commentaries, Absolute Predestination by Zanchius, and The Attributes of God and The Sovereignty of God—both by A.W. Pink.

Pink’s writing is rich and deep, unlike much (or most) of what came out of the 20th century. To read one of his works takes more effort than it takes to read The Fox and the Hound, which sets it apart from the popular books in Life-way. But, as is the case with the writings of the Puritans and Reformers, it is worth it.  Martyn Lloyd-Jones gave the following advice to a fellow pastor: “Don’t waste your time reading Barth and Brunner. You will get nothing from them to aid you with preaching. Read Pink.”

In an effort to waste less of my own time, I am going to cut back on my reading of new releases and be more selective. One of my plans is to read more books published by The Banner of Truth Trust. This biography of Pink, like Iain Murray’s other biographies, is. And Lord willing, much of my posting in the coming weeks will be from The Life of Arthur W Pink. It will be beneficial for me, and I hope it will be for you, too.