Andrew A. Bonar.

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The Biography of

Robert Murray M'Cheyne

[Illustration: Robert Murray M'Cheyne with Signature]

* * * * *

The Biography of

Robert Murray M'Cheyne




* * * * *


The telling of the deeply spiritual life story of the young minister
of the Gospel of St. Peters Church, Dundee, Scotland, Robert Murray
M'Cheyne, has been used of God to bring challenge, blessing and
inspiration to hundreds of thousands down through the years since his
death in 1843 at the early age of 30. Few men have lived a life filled
with such power and blessing in such a short span of years.

Dr. Andrew A. Bonar's biography of this stalwart young man of God has
been the standard recognized work on the life of this prince among
men. This biography is from the larger _Memoirs and Remains of the Rev.
Robert Murray M'Cheyne_ with just the memoirs - or biography - reprinted.
The "remains," letters and sermons of M'Cheyne have been recently
republished in the Wyckliffe Series issued by the Moody Press, but we
are presenting in the pages of this volume Bonar's soul-stirring
biography of this young man who was so completely and wholly
surrendered to the will of God. Dr. Wilbur M. Smith, in his
"Profitable Bible Study," says, "Every minister, of whatever
denomination, should have this marvelous work."

The publishers of this unabridged edition send it forth once again
with the earnest prayer that God will continue to use it to the
inspiration and challenge of young and old alike to realize what can
be done with a life completely and absolutely dedicated to Him.

* * * * *


* * * * *



"_Many shall rejoice at his birth; for he shall be great in the
sight of the Lord_" - Luke 1:14.

In the midst of the restless activity of such a day as ours, it will
be felt by ministers of Christ to be useful in no common degree, to
trace the steps of one who but lately left us, and who, during the
last years of his short life, walked calmly in almost unbroken
fellowship with the FATHER and the SON.

The date of his birth was May 21, 1813. About that time, as is now
evident to us who can look back on the past, the Great Head had a
purpose of blessing for the Church of Scotland. Eminent men of God
appeared to plead the cause of Christ. The Cross was lifted up boldly
in the midst of Church Courts which had long been ashamed of the
gospel of Christ. More spirituality and deeper seriousness began a few
years onward to prevail among the youth of our divinity halls. In the
midst of such events, whereby the Lord was secretly preparing a rich
blessing for souls in all our Borders, the subject of this Memoir was
born. "Many were to rejoice at his birth;" for he was one of the
blessings which were beginning to be dropped down upon Scotland,
though none then knew that one was born whom hundreds would look up to
as their spiritual father.

The place of his birth was Edinburgh, where his parents resided. He
was the youngest child of the family, and was called ROBERT MURRAY,
after the name of some of his kindred.

From his infancy his sweet and affectionate temper was remarked by all
who knew him. His mind was quick in its attainments; he was easily
taught the common lessons of youth, and some of his peculiar
endowments began early to appear. At the age of four, while recovering
from some illness, he selected as his recreation the study of the
Greek alphabet, and was able to name all the letters, and write them
in a rude way upon a slate. A year after, he made rapid progress in
the English class, and at an early period became somewhat eminent
among his schoolfellows for his melodious voice and powers of
recitation. There were at that time catechetical exercises held in the
Tron Church, in the interval between sermons; and some friends
remember the interest often excited in the hearers by his correct and
sweet recitation of the Psalms and passages of Scripture. But as yet
he knew not the Lord, he lived to himself, "having no hope, and
without God in the world." Eph. 2:12.

In October 1821 he entered the High School, where he continued his
literary studies during the usual period of six years. He maintained a
high place in his classes, and in the Rector's class distinguished
himself by eminence in geography and recitation. It was during the
last year of his attendance at the High School that he first ventured
on poetical composition, the subject being "Greece, but living Greece
no more." The lines are characterized chiefly by enthusiasm for
liberty and Grecian heroism, for in these days his soul had never
soared to a higher region. His companions speak of him as one who had
even then peculiarities that drew attention: of a light, tall
form - full of elasticity and vigor - ambitious, yet noble in his
dispositions, disdaining everything like meanness or deceit. Some
would have been apt to regard him as exhibiting many traits of a
Christian character; but his susceptible mind had not, at that time, a
relish for any higher joy than the refined gaieties of society, and
for such pleasures as the song and the dance could yield. He himself
regarded these as days of ungodliness - days wherein he cherished a
pure morality, but lived in heart a Pharisee. I have heard him say
that there was a correctness and propriety in his demeanor at times of
devotion, and in public worship, which some, who knew not his heart,
were ready to put to the account of real feeling. And this experience
of his own heart made him look with jealousy on the mere outward signs
of devotion in dealing with souls. He had learnt in his own case how
much a soul, unawakened to a sense of guilt, may have satisfaction in
performing from the proud consciousness of integrity towards man, and
a sentimental devotedness of mind that chastens the feelings without
changing the heart.

He had great delight in rural scenery. Most of his summer vacations
used to be spent in Dumfriesshire, and his friends in the parish of
Ruthwell and its vicinity retain a vivid remembrance of his youthful
days. His poetic temperament led him to visit whatever scenes were
fitted to stir the soul. At all periods of his life, also, he had a
love of enterprise. During the summer months he occasionally made
excursions with his brother, or some intimate friend, to visit the
lakes and hills of our Highlands, cherishing thereby, unawares, a
fondness for travel, that was most useful to him in after days. In one
of these excursions, a somewhat romantic occurrence befell the
travellers, such as we might rather have expected to meet with in the
records of his Eastern journey. He and his friends had set out on foot
to explore, at their leisure, Dunkeld, and the highlands in its
vicinity. They spent a day at Dunkeld, and about sunset set out again
with the view of crossing the hills to Strathardle. A dense mist
spread over the hills soon after they began to climb. They pressed on,
but lost the track that might have guided them safely to the glen.
They knew not how to direct their steps to any dwelling. Night came
on, and they had no resource but to couch among the heath, with no
other covering than the clothes they wore. They felt hungry and cold;
and, awaking at midnight, the awful stillness of the lonely mountains
spread a strange fear over them. But, drawing close together, they
again lay down to rest, and slept soundly till the cry of some wild
birds and the morning dawn aroused them.

Entering the Edinburgh University in November 1827, he gained some
prize in all the various classes he attended. In private he studied
the modern languages; and gymnastic exercises at that time gave him
unbounded delight. He used his pencil with much success, and then it
was that his hand was prepared for sketching the scenes of the Holy
Land. He had a very considerable knowledge of music, and himself sang
correctly and beautifully. This, too, was a gift which was used to the
glory of the Lord in after days, - wonderfully enlivening his secret
devotions, and enabling him to lead the song of praise in the
congregation wherever occasion required. Poetry also was a
never-failing recreation; and his taste in this department drew the
attention of Professor Wilson, who adjudged him the prize in the Moral
Philosophy class for a poem, "On the Covenanters."

In the winter of 1831 he commenced his studies in the Divinity Hall
under Dr. Chalmers, and the study of Church History under Dr. Welsh.
It may be naturally asked, What led him to wish to preach salvation to
his fellow-sinners? Could he say, like Robert Bruce, "_I was first
called to my grace, before I obeyed my calling to the ministry?_" Few
questions are more interesting than this; and our answer to it will
open up some of the wonderful ways of Him "whose path is in the great
waters, and whose footsteps are not known," Psalm 77:19; for the same
event that awakened his soul to a true sense of sin and misery, led
him to the ministry.

During his attendance at the literary and philosophical classes he
felt occasional impressions, none of them perhaps of much depth. There
can be no doubt that he himself looked upon the death of his eldest
brother, David, as the event which awoke him from the sleep of nature,
and brought the first beam of divine light into his soul. By that
providence the Lord was calling one soul to enjoy the treasures of
grace, while He took the other into the possession of glory.

In this brother, who was his senior by eight or nine years, the light
of divine grace shone before men with rare and solemn loveliness. His
classical attainments were very high; and, after the usual preliminary
studies, he had been admitted Writer to the Signet. One distinguishing
quality of his character was his sensitive truthfulness. In a moment
would the shadow flit across his brow, if any incident were related
wherein there was the slightest exaggeration; or even when nothing but
truth was spoken, if only the deliverer seemed to take up a false or
exaggerated view. He must not merely speak the whole truth himself,
but he must have the hearer also to apprehend the whole truth. He
spent much of his leisure hours in attending to the younger members of
the family. Tender and affectionate, his grieved look when they vexed
him by resisting his counsels, had (it is said) something in it so
persuasive that it never failed in the end to prevail on those with
whom his words had not succeeded. His youngest brother, at a time when
he lived according to the course of this world, was the subject of
many of his fervent prayers. But a deep melancholy, in a great degree
the effect of bodily ailments, settled down on David's soul. Many
weary months did he spend in awful gloom, till the trouble of his soul
wasted away his body: but the light broke in before his death; joy
from the face of a fully reconciled Father above lighted up his face;
and the peace of his last days was the sweet consolation left to his
afflicted friends, when, 8th July 1851, he fell asleep in Jesus.

The death of this brother, with all its circumstances, was used by the
Holy Spirit to produce a deep impression on Robert's soul. In many
respects - even in the gifts of a poetic mind - there had been a
congeniality between him and David. The vivacity of Robert's ever
active and lively mind was the chief point of difference. This
vivacity admirably fitted him for public life; it needed only to be
chastened and solemnized, and the event that had now occurred wrought
this effect. A few months before, the happy family circle had been
broken up by the departure of the second brother for India, in the
Bengal Medical Service; but when, in the course of the summer, David
was removed from them forever, there were impressions left such as
could never be effaced, at least from the mind of Robert. Naturally of
an intensely affectionate disposition, this stroke moved his whole
soul. His quiet hours seem to have been often spent in thoughts of him
who was now gone to glory. There are some lines remaining in which his
poetic mind has most touchingly, and with uncommon vigor, painted him
whom he had lost, - lines all the more interesting, because the
delineation of character and form which they contain cannot fail to
call up to those who knew him the image of the author himself. Some
time after his brother's death he had tried to preserve the features
of his well-remembered form, by attempting a portrait from memory; but
throwing aside the pencil in despair, he took up the pen, and poured
out the fulness of his heart.


ALAS! not perfect yet - another touch,
And still another, and another still,
Till those dull lips breathe life, and yonder eye
Lose its lack lustre hue, and be lit up
With the warm glance of living feeling. No -
It never can be! Ah, poor, powerless art!
Most vaunting, yet most impotent, thou seek'st
To trace the thousand, thousand shades and lights
That glowed conspicuous on the blessed face
Of him thou fain wouldst imitate - to bind
Down to the fragile canvas the wild play
Of thought and mild affection, which were wont
To dwell in the serious eye, and play around
The placid mouth. Thou seek'st to give again
That which the burning soul, inhabiting
Its clay-built tenement, alone can give -
To leave on cold dead matter the impress
Of living mind - to bid a line, a shade,
Speak forth, not words, but the soft intercourse
Which the immortal spirit, while on earth
It tabernacles, breathes from every pore -
Thoughts not converted into words, and hopes,
And fears, and hidden joys, and griefs, unborn
Into the world of sound, but beaming forth
In that expression which no words, or work
Of cunning artist, can express. In vain,
Alas! in vain!
Come hither, Painter; come,
Take up once more thine instruments - thy brush
And palette - if thy haughty art be, as thou say'st,
Omnipotent, and if thy hand can dare
To wield creative power. Renew thy toil,
And let my memory, vivified by love,
Which Death's cold separation has but warmed
And rendered sacred dictate to thy skill,
And guide thy pencil. From the jetty hair
Take off that gaudy lustre that but mocks
The true original; and let the dry,
Soft, gentle-turning locks, appear instead.
What though to fashion's garish eye they seem
Untutored and ungainly? still to me,
Than folly's foppish head-gear, lovelier far
Are they, because bespeaking mental toil,
Labor assiduous, through the golden days
(Golden if so improved) of guileless youth,
Unwearied mining in the precious stores
Of classic lore - and better, nobler still,
In God's own holy writ. And scatter here
And there a thread of grey, to mark the grief
That prematurely checked the bounding flow
Of the warm current in his veins, and shed
An early twilight o'er so bright a dawn.
No wrinkle sits upon that brow! - and thus
It ever was. The angry strife and cares
Of avaricious miser did not leave
Their base memorial on so fair a page.
The eyebrows next draw closer down, and throw
A softening shade o'er the mild orbs below.
Let the full eyelid, drooping, half conceal
The back-retiring eye; and point to earth
The long brown lashes that bespeak a soul
Like his who said, "I am not worthy, Lord!"
From underneath these lowly turning lids,
Let not shine forth the gaily sparkling light
Which dazzles oft, and oft deceives; nor yet
The dull unmeaning lustre that can gaze
Alike on all the world. But paint an eye
In whose half-hidden, steady light I read
A truth-inquiring mind; a fancy, too,
That could array in sweet poetic garb
The truth he found; while on his artless harp
He touched the gentlest feelings, which the blaze
Of winter's hearth warms in the homely heart.
And oh! recall the look of faith sincere,
With which that eye would scrutinize the page
That tells us of offended God appeased
By awful sacrifice upon the cross
Of Calvary - that bids us leave a world
Immersed in darkness and in death, and seek
A better country. Ah! how oft that eye
Would turn on me, with pity's tenderest look,
And, only half-upbraiding, bid me flee
From the vain idols of my boyish heart!

It was about the same time, while still feeling the sadness of this
bereavement, that he wrote the fragment entitled


A grave I know
Where earthly show
Is not - a mound
Whose gentle round
Sustains the load
Of a fresh sod.
Its shape is rude,
And weeds intrude
Their yellow flowers -
In gayer bowers
Unknown. The grass,
A tufted mass,
Is rank and strong,
Unsmoothed and long.
No rosebud there
Embalms the air;
No lily chaste
Adorns the waste,
Nor daisy's head
Bedecks the bed.
No myrtles wave
Above that grave;
Unknown in life,
And far from strife,
He lived: - and though
The magic flow
Of genius played
Around his head,
And he could weave
"The song at eve,"
And touch the heart,
With gentlest art;
Or care beguile,
And draw the smile
Of peace from those
Who wept their woes
Yet when the love
Of Christ above
To guilty men
Was shown him - then
He left the joys
Of worldly noise,
And humbly laid
His drooping head
Nor heather-bell
Is there to tell
Of gentle friend
Who sought to lend
A sweeter sleep
To him who deep
Beneath the ground
Repose has found.
No stone of woe
Is there to show
The name, or tell
How passing well
He loved his God,
And how he trod
The humble road
That leads through sorrow
To a bright morrow
He sought the breath:
But which can give
The power to live -
Whose word alone
Can melt the stone,
Bid tumult cease,
And all be peace!
He sought not now
To wreathe his brow
With laurel bough.
He sought no more
To gather store
Of earthly lore,
Nor vainly strove
To share the love
Of heaven above,
With aught below
That earth can show
The smile forsook
His cheek - his look
Was cold and sad;
And even the glad
Return of morn,
When the ripe corn
Waves o'er the plains,
And simple swains
With joy prepare
The toil to share
Of harvest, brought
No lively thought
To him.

And spring adorns
The sunny morns
With opening flowers;
Upon the cross;
And thought the loss
Of all that earth
Contained - of mirth,
Of loves, and fame,
And pleasures' name -
No sacrifice
To win the prize,
Which Christ secured,
When He endured
For us the load -
The wrath of God!
With many a tear,
And many a fear,
With many a sigh
And heart-wrung cry
Of timid faith,
Where intervenes
No darkening cloud
Of sin to shroud
The gazer's view.
Thus sadly flew
The merry spring;
And gaily sing
The birds their loves
In summer groves.
But not for him
Their notes they trim.
His ear is cold -
His tale is told.
Above his grave
The grass may wave -

The crowd pass by
Without a sigh
Above the spot.
They knew him not -
They could not know;
And even though,
Why should they shed
Above the dead
Who slumbers here
A single tear?
I cannot weep,
Though in my sleep
I sometimes clasp
With love's fond grasp
His gentle hand,
And see him stand
Beside my bed,
And lean his head
Upon my breast,
O'er lawn and mead;
Its virgin head
The snowdrop steeps
In dew, and peeps
The crocus forth,
Nor dreads the north.
But even the spring
No smile can bring
To him, whose eye
Sought in the sky
For brighter scenes.

And bid me rest
Nor night nor day
Till I can say
That I have found
The holy ground
In which there lies
The Pearl of Price -
Till all the ties
The soul that bind,
And all the lies
The soul that blind,

Nothing could more fully prove the deep impression which the event
made than these verses. But it was not a transient regret, nor was it
the "sorrow of the world." He was in his eighteenth year when his
brother died; and if this was not the year of his new birth, at least
it was the year when the first streaks of dawn appeared in his soul.
From that day forward his friends observed a change. His poetry was
pervaded with serious thought, and all his pursuits began to be
followed out in another spirit. He engaged in the labors of a Sabbath
school, and began to seek God to his soul, in the diligent reading of
the word, and attendance on a faithful ministry.

How important this period of his life appeared in his own view, may be
gathered from his allusions to it in later days. A year after, he
writes in his diary: "On this morning last year came the first
overwhelming blow to my worldliness; how blessed to me, Thou, O God,
only knowest, who hast made it so." Every year he marked this day as
one to be remembered, and occasionally its recollections seem to have
come in like a flood. In a letter to a friend (8th July 1842), upon a
matter entirely local, he concludes by a postscript: "This day eleven
years ago, my holy brother David entered into his rest, aged 26." And
on that same day, writing a note to one of his flock in Dundee (who
had asked him to furnish a preface to a work printed 1740, _Letters on
Spiritual Subjects_), he commends the book, and adds: "Pray for me,
that I may be made holier and wiser - less like myself, and more like
my heavenly Master; that I may not regard my life, if so be I may
finish my course with joy. This day eleven years ago, I lost my loved
and loving brother, and began to seek a Brother who cannot die."

It was to companions who could sympathize in his feelings that he
unbosomed himself. At that period it was not common for inquiring
souls to carry their case to their pastor. A conventional reserve upon
theses subjects prevailed even among lively believers. It almost
seemed as if they were ashamed of the Son of man. This reserve
appeared to him very sinful; and he felt it to be so great an evil,
that in after days he was careful to encourage anxious souls to
converse with him freely. The nature of his experience, however, we
have some means of knowing. On one occasion, a few of us who had
studied together were reviewing the Lord's dealings with our souls,
and how He had brought us to himself all very nearly at the same time,
though without any special instrumentality. He stated that there was
nothing sudden in his case, and that he was led to Christ through deep
and ever-abiding, but not awful or distracting, convictions. In this
we see the Lord's sovereignty. In bringing a soul to the Saviour, the
Holy Spirit invariably leads it to very deep consciousness of sin; but
then He causes this consciousness of sin to be more distressing and
intolerable to some than to others. But in one point does the
experience of all believing sinners agree in this matter, viz. their
soul presented to their view nothing but an abyss of sin, when the

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Online LibraryAndrew A. BonarThe Biography of Robert Murray M'Cheyne → online text (page 1 of 17)