Does the way to conversion of the head lie through a converted heart?

Andrew Murray Jr. (1928 – 1917) was the South African born son of Andrew Murray,  a Dutch Reformed minister and missionary from Scotland based in Graaff Reinet, South Africa, situated 160 kms from my home town in Port Elizabeth. My visit to the parsonage was a wonderful experience. It remains in the  same state today  as when the Murrays lived there. Andrew Jr., like his father, became a minister and missionary. He was minister in Wellington, Cape Province, South Africa from 1971 to 1906. I spent  five school years in Wellington, and whenever I walked to town, I passed his statue outside the church where he was minister. (School years after the Orphanage: Wellington). He was a prolific author and is widely read today in the Christian community.


andrew murrray use

Andrew Murray


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The Parsonage. Now a museum

While Andrew and his brother John were studying theology in Holland, Andrew wrote to his father requesting that he and his brother finish their studies in Germany. What attracted them to Germany was August Tholuck (1799-1877) of Halle University, a brilliant orientalist. What attracted Andrew Murray to Tholuck, however, was not Tholuck’s knowledge of languages, but his pietism, which is a religious movement in 17ty century Germany that stressed Bible study and personal religious experience in reaction to the pervasive rationalism of the “Enlightenment”.

Here is an extract from Andrew Murray’s letter from Holland to his father in Graaff Reinet, South Africa:

“There is a plan that I have to propose to Papa. I cannot say that I am sure that it will meet with his approbation, but I mention it thus early that he may think about it and shall write more fully about it afterwards, and then he will be kind enough to give me an answer. In about two years from this date, which is all the time that it will be necessary for us to stay here, I shall be just twenty years old. The lectures here are such that it is almost impossible to get any good from them. What would Papa say to my, or perhaps both of us, then going to Germany ? It would likely be to Halle, where there are a great many excellent {both in head and heart) professors, at the head of whom stands Tholuck, a pious man, professor of exegesis, who is the leader of those who at the present time oppose the German neology [more on neology shortly]—at least as to what concerns the New Testament. From living being cheaper in Germany than here, the expenses of the journey would be compensated for by the difference in the living. About the same time the Cape students at Barmen would be going there so that perhaps we would be able to live still cheaper. The reason I have spoken of myself alone is that from the want of ministers at the Cape it would perhaps be necessary for John to come home immediately, and he would then be just about the age at which he could be ordained, while I think it very unlikely that in this stiff country where everything must happen according to rule, they would ordain me so young, little more than twenty. It would, however, be of course a very great advantage for him too. You will say, my dear Father, that is looking far forward. May God guide us in all our steps, and give us grace to do whatsoever our hand finds to do with all our might.”



August Tholuck

German neology is “a 17th century religious movement originating in Germany in reaction to formalism and intellectualism and stressing Bible study and personal religious experience.” (The Quarterly Christian Spectator, 1834, Art. X, p. 509, Google books).

Here is Tholuck:

“I have been young, but now am old. I have spent a whole lifetime in battling against infidelity with the weapons of apologetic science; but I have become ever more and more convinced that the way to the heart does not lie through the head; and that way to conversion of the head lies through a converted heart which already tastes the living fruits of the Gospel.” We are reminded of Pascal’s “The heart has its reasons that reason can never know” Le coeur a ses raisons que le raison ne connaît point.

If read in context, Pascal does not mean that God can only be known through the heart, but that He can be ultimately known only through  the heart. The modern meaning of “heart” in this context connotes spiritually discerned. In the Hebrew scriptures, however, “heart” refers to the whole being. Pascal’s “heart” is not the Old Testament meaning of “heart.” In Pascal the head reasons, the heart feels; in the Old Testament the heart is not merely the seat of the feelings but of thought as well, as in Deuteronomy 6:5 – And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ וּבְכָל־מְאֹדֶֽךָ׃ [ve-ahavta et Adonai ( יְהוָה YHVH) elohecha b’chol l’vavcha [בָבְךָ YOUR HEART]oovechol nafsh’cha oovechol m’odecha].

The Greek of the New Testament introduces the mind as distinct from the heart: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart (kardia), and with all thy soul (psyche), and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind (dianoia)… (Luke 10:27). (See God seems distant in the midst of personal loss and suffering: When suffering comes to a head, strengthen it).

To return to Tholuck’s “I have become ever more and more convinced that the way to the heart does not lie through the head; and that way to conversion of the head lies through a converted heart which already tastes the living fruits of the Gospel.”

Tholuck 1. “the way to the heart does not lie through the head.”

There is an important sense in which the way to the heart must lie through the mind, as the scripture says:

[13] For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” [14] How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? [15] And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” [16] But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” [17] So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:13-17 ).

The words preached are the divinely authoritative and declarative facts that have to pass through the ears into the head before it can reach the heart. Only after regeneration (being born again of God in Christ), however, will one’s mind be turned to and gradually renewed to grasp and obey the divine authoritative declarations embodied in “facts and statements, and assurances and promises and revelations in which God has told us all that we need know of what we are, of how we became such, of what He is, of what He has done for us, of what He is doing, of what He will do, not one of which could we learn from nature, for a knowledge of which we are totally dependent upon God’s statement, and of which we have no other personal knowledge than that what God tells us about them.” (“Thus says the Lord,” by James Petigree Boyce).

Theologians speak of notitia (facts), assensus (mental assent to these facts) and fiducia (faith/trust in these facts). The fact of the matter is that notitia will only be assented to after the mustard seed of fiducia has been implanted in the soul by the Holy Spirit of God.

Tholuck 2. “that way to conversion of the head lies through a converted heart which already tastes the living fruits of the Gospel.”

This is so; conversion through the converted heart. (Conversion embraces regeneration, repentance, faith, justification and reconciliation to God). Someone may hear Gospel words but reject them as facts. As Tholuck says your heart must first be converted. What he means, I suggest, is that the human soul (heart) must first be regenerated, which is a sovereign unilateral work of God, wherein the soul, dead in sin, is raised to spiritual life, and in the process repents and is reconciled to the Father through the Son, Jesus Christ. Colossians 2 13″ And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (See also Ephesians 2:1-10).

 Andrew Murray’s life work was (as were his whole family’s) totally devoted to the study, meditation, dissemination, exhortation of and absolute surrender to the divine facts of God in Christ.



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