REV. W. JOHN MURRAYFragments of biography
Daniel M. Murphy
Vol. 17, No. 2
Divine Science Publishing Assoc.,
New York, November 1925.
[Published shortly after Rev. Murray’s passing in 1925.]
It is especially significant to me that William John Murray should have been born in a city celebrated for its excellent cutlery. This event occurred in Sheffield, England, July 28, 1865. It would have been difficult to find a sharper or keener mind than his – one more pointed in illustration, or more apt and flexible in establishing a point of Truth.
If he had been an ancient Greek or Roman, Plutarch would have descried in him a wonderful subject for a biography because of his capacity for service, and his faculty for intellectual leadership, irrespective of personal sacrifice. Now that he is “too early done with the earth,” some attempt, inadequate as it must be, should be made to record certain phases of the character and attainment of one who left such a profound and ennobling impression upon the lives of those who were so fortunate as to come within his beneficent influence.
His mother was related to Lord Fitzgerald’s family in Ireland, and, because of oppression and injustice there, she emigrated to England. Through another ancestral branch he was a cousin of Michael Davitt, the Irish leader. As a boy, W. John was a precocious student and when only fourteen was teaching Latin.
When eighteen years old he removed to New York. During his young manhood he was deeply interested in sports and physical development, and was well known for his athletic attainments and records. From this field of activity he drew the rich fund of illustrations and figures which colored and vivified so many of his talks and writings.
After a few years he went to Southern California to live. In 1896 he was married to Ms. Sara Van Alen Pollard and entered business with his brother in Santa Barbara.
Within a short time Mrs. Murray became seriously ill and her case was pronounced hopeless by the best physicians available, different climates and methods of cure having failed, as well as orthodox prayers. She was then restored to health by Christian Science. This healing so impressed the Murrays that they decided to make a study of this new means of cure and to devote their lives to activities along that line.
They became practitioners and located in San Francisco where, after the early struggles, their work was eminently successful. They established the first sanitarium on the Pacific Coast devoted to Spiritual healing.
In order to give some significant sidelights upon the life of my beloved friend it will be necessary for me to relate a few personal details of my early association with him. It pleases me to recall that “The Confessions of St. Augustine” began our acquaintance, and under such auspices, I find it easier to estimate the extraordinary influence for good that he exerted upon me, enriching my life and giving a meaning and a constructive purpose to one who was before spiritually unawakened.
Fully twenty-five years ago in San Francisco, a slender, sprightly, immaculately dressed man entered a book store and asked for a copy of St. Augustine. It was my privilege to serve him and, in his pleasure in finding the beloved book, he glanced through its pages and read aloud an occasional passage, making a few illuminating comments. He stated that some time he hoped to possess one for himself as this one was for a patient of his. At once I mentally classed him as a new and desirable kind of doctor. Later I realized how characteristic of his generous spirit his intention was. His reading of the texts was clearly a forecast of what was to be the great method of instruction which he brought to such potency in his noon meetings while expounding “The Inheritance Incorruptible.”
In order to enlarge their scope of ministering to the needy the Murrays removed to New York in 1902. As they had lost children of their own, they meanwhile adopted several. They also assumed charge of, and healed scores of children, absolutely sacrificing their time and substance for this purpose.
I will cite only such cases of which I have personal knowledge. They learned of an abandoned baby on Randall’s Island who was declared hopeless by the city authorities. According to medical diagnosis, it was blind, scrofulous, and had curvature of the spine. Nurses refused to touch it. The Murrays brought this child to their home. It was healed and made every whit whole and perfect.
Fortunately for me, I met W. John Murray in New York soon after his arrival and we both recalled the first occasion. During the ensuing years the radiance of his loving influence upon me steadily increased becoming at last like a search light in its illuminating effect.
W. John Murray was not a subservient spirit. He had been having experiences which called forth undaunted courage. While, at different times, within the two most powerful religious organizations, he was confronted by crippling influences. With the Immortals of history he did exactly what his alleged superiors – those in authority – forbade him to do. He demonstrated anew that the slavishly obedient in life are always destined to be forgotten. He realized that conscience is not merely “a secretion of the brain,” but a vital, dearly-bought mentor and hard task master. This has always been the realization of the Wayshowers of the World.
In 1903 he resigned from the Christian Science Church in order to insure himself greater freedom of thought and action in executing the “Father’s business.”
Beginning in 1905, during my residence at the University Settlement in the Ghetto, Mr. Murray frequently came there to talk to my groups of boys and girls, kindling them to a greater realization of their own mental and spiritual resources. He also often gave his services to our neighbor – the Bowery Mission – and spoke to the derelicts drawn there by the bait of warmth, coffee and sandwiches. I recall one Winter night that I noticed him shivering with cold and he reluctantly admitted that he had given his heavy new overcoat to a man whose need was greater than his own. At this time he was living in East Orange and had to commute daily, arriving home late at night.
Despite the imposition of many, and the discouragements incident to the practice of Christianity, he was undaunted by ingratitude and privation. As was said to Goldsmith, he was a poor accumulator, but a good distributor. This is especially true of his spiritual largess; he gave his highest and most loving thought unstintingly. He did not consider life as merely passing but as continually increasing in richness and opportunity. He was able to convey almost as much by what he withheld as by what he said. His sense of humor was unfailing and eased many a difficult situation.
In August 1907, with seven friends, Mr. and Mrs. Murray organized the “Society for the Study of Divine Metaphysics.” The object of the group was to understand and to apply the Truth as taught and practiced by Jesus in the overcoming of sin and the healing of disease. In other words, it was an effort to re-establish what might be called Apostolic Christianity.
The Society almost at once outgrew its initial meeting place in a dining room adjacent to the elevated railroad where, every few minutes, the talk had to be suspended while the train passed. Our successive assembly places – nine in number until we achieved an attendance which justified our entry into the Hotel Astor – included a dancing academy and a theater. These involved a continual expansion and the necessity of meeting an ever increasing rental. This heavy responsibility fell upon Mrs. Murray when other means of assessment failed.
About this time our Society was incorporated as a church under the New York laws, of the denomination of Divine Science. The name of the organization itself was adopted, at the suggestion of Mrs. Murray, as the Church of the Healing Christ.
Mr. Murray was then voted a salary as our pastor, though we were unable to pay him till some time later. Prior to that he had gladly served without payment.
In December 1915, W. John Murray was arrested for practicing medicine without a license. This action by the District Attorney evoked much discussion and wide editorial comment and also public protests from prominent persons. The outcome of the case was the vindication of the individual’s right to seek healing through prayer by those qualified to give such aid. Judge Breen eventually acquitted Mr. Murray of the charge and established the right of a member of a church, with spiritual healing as one of its tenets, to practice healing according to that method.
Those who had the privilege of hearing our pastor’s first talk after he was bailed out of the Tombs, where he had been confined for several hours for this alleged crime, know he never in after years surpassed the spiritual heights which he reached on that occasion of our Wednesday evening meeting in the Hotel Majestic. His face was glorified by courage and faith and love as he exhorted us at all times to “fear not, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.”
Soon after this excellent advertisement the seating capacity of the Astor was inadequate and the church moved to the grand ball room of the Waldorf Astoria, where it is still located.
While resorting to none of the tricks of orators, and indulging in no eccentricities, W. John Murray was an extraordinarily accomplished speaker. His hearers were at once overwhelmingly convinced of his deep love and sincerity. His choice of the right word was unerring and his illustrations were apt and illuminating. The universality of his message was such that he spoke to each according to his individual need.
One of the great enthusiasms of his recent years was his love for Italy. He and Mrs. Murray had a home there where they both spent considerable time. During the War he was of great service in Italy’s cause. He served one summer in the trenches under the auspices of the Y.M.C.A., and in New York was instrumental in raising several thousand dollars for the Ambulance service. Later he was prominent in the Milk Fund work. In recognition of these generous activities the King of Italy conferred upon him the Order of the Cavalieri, a badge of high merit. He was also President of the Dante League of America.
As the Church of the Healing Christ was the first to occupy a hotel for a meeting place, so also, was W. John Murray the first to inaugurate daily healing meetings in New York. When this feature of his work was projected it was deemed impracticable; it was considered unlikely and paradoxical that people would come together on one of the busiest corners in the city in a fashionable hotel, in a noon healing meeting.
But the far-seeing vision of our pastor was more than justified, for as soon as the opportunity became known, the attendance was assured and ranged from two hundred up to more than four hundred at times. Many remarkable self-healings have taken place there and great numbers have learned how to heal themselves and others. Through his group of Silent Helpers the restorative and rectifying work has been felt all over the continent.
A cardinal feature of W. John Murray’s teaching was what might be termed its liberating impulse. He had learned from drastic experiences forced upon him in his efforts to free himself from theological limitations, the terrible effect of spiritual restrictions laid upon an up-reaching mind. He realized that these have upon the sensitive soul a crippling and dwarfing effect as tangible and unmistakable as if they were steel instruments calculated to distort the individual into ugly malformations. Throughout his years of service, his paramount desire was to free his fellows from the terrible sequels to such beliefs and doctrines, and to re-enthrone the normal mind.
Many have marveled at the great capacity for work which he manifested – daily talks, lectures here and abroad, classes, writing sermons and articles, church activities, personal interviews, and no small amount of current reading. He became completely absorbed in each task and realized himself merely the channel through which the Father’s work was to be accomplished.
Now that he is hidden from our ken and has passed into that vibrant and potent Silence, the practice of one phase of which healing realization he so urgently advocated, he still lives here in the richest and fullest sense in the myriads whom he has awakened to “the newer thought about man, and the larger thought about God.”
A fitting crown for him is that which was said of the Great Master: “He went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed.”
In the “mansion” of “the Father’s House,” where he now is, he will surely follow his dominating desire and work for the liberation of those who are suffering from their false beliefs. So loving and serviceable a spirit would assuredly wish to continue that for which he was so eminently fitted. There, as here, it will be true of him: “There was a man sent from God whose name was John… He was not the Light, but he was sent to give testimony of that Light.”
How convincingly, how eloquently, and how lovingly was that Testimony given!
(Formerly at Northwoods Divine Science Resource Center)