Andrew A. Bonar.

The Biography of Robert Murray M'Cheyne online

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what I am in myself, but for the beauty He sees in Immanuel."

The classic shores of Italy and Greece are invested with a peculiar
interest, such as may raise deep emotions even in a sanctified soul.
"We tried to recollect many of the studies of our boyhood. But what is
classic learning to us now? I count all things but loss for the
excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord. And yet these
recollections tinged every object, and afforded us a most lawful

During our voyage, it was his delight to search into the Scriptures,
just as at home. And so much did he calculate on an unceasing study of
the word during all our journey, that he took with him some notes I
had written on each chapter of the book of Leviticus, observing it
would be suitable meditation for us while busy with Jewish minds. At
home and abroad he had an insatiable appetite for all the word, - both
for the types of the Old Testament and the plain text of the New. On
one occasion, before leaving home, in studying Numbers 4., he fixed
the different duties assigned to the priests on his memory, by means
of the following lines: -

The _Kohathites_ upon their shoulder bear
The holy vessels, covered with all care,
The _Gershonites_ receive an easier charge,
Two waggons full of cords and curtains large;
_Merari's_ sons four ponderous waggons load
With boards and pillars of the house of God.

He acted on the principle, that whatever God has revealed must deserve
our study and prayerful investigation.

Arrived at Alexandria in Egypt, and thence proceeding onward to
Palestine by the way of the desert, we found ourselves set down on a
new stage of experience. Mr. M'Cheyne observed on the silence of the
desert places: "It is a remarkable feeling to be quite alone in a
desert place; it gives similar feelings to fasting; it brings God
near. Living in tents, and moving among such lonely scenes for many
days, awake many new ideas. It is a strange life we lead in the
wilderness. Round and round there is a complete circle of sand and
wilderness shrubs; above, a blue sky without a cloud, and a scorching
sun which often made the thermometer stand at 96° in our tents. When
evening came, the sun went down as it does in the ocean, and the stars
came riding forth in their glory; and we used to pitch all alone, with
none but our poor ignorant Bedouins, and their camels, and our
all-knowing, all-loving God beside us. When morning began to dawn, our
habitations were taken down. Often we have found ourselves shelterless
before being fully dressed. What a type of the tent of our body! Ah!
how often taken down before the soul is made meet for the inheritance
of the saints in light." To Mr. Bonar of Larbert he writes: "I had no
idea that travelling in the wilderness was so dreadful a thing as it
is. The loneliness I often felt quite solemnized me. The burning sun
overhead, - round and round a circle of barren sand, chequered only by
a few prickly shrubs ('the heat of the wilderness,' of which Jeremiah
speaks), no rain, not a cloud, the wells often like that of Marah, and
far between. I now understand well the murmurings of Israel. I feel
that our journey proved and tried my own heart very much." When we
look back, and remember that he who thus stands on the sandy desert
road between Egypt and Palestine, and looks on its singular scenery,
is one who but lately was to be found busy night and day in dealing
with the souls of men in the densely peopled streets of a town teeming
with population, we are led to wonder at the ways of the Lord. But is
it not a moment which may remind us that the God who sent Elijah to
the brook at Cherith is the same God still? and that the wise,
considerate, loving Master, who said, "Come into a desert place and
rest awhile," is as loving, considerate, and wise as He was then?

At Balteen, a small village in Egypt, I well remember the indignation
that fired his countenance, when our Arab attendants insisted on
travelling forward on the Sabbath-day, rather than continue sitting
under a few palm-trees, breathing a sultry, furnace-like atmosphere,
with nothing more than just such supply of food as sufficed. He could
not bear the thought of being deprived of the Sabbath rest; it was
needful for our souls as much in the wilderness as in the crowded
city; and if few glorify God in that desolate land, so much the more
were we called on to fill these solitudes with our songs of praise. It
was in this light he viewed our position; and when we had prevailed,
and were seated under the palms, he was excited to deep emotion,
though before quite unnerved by the heat, at the sight of a row of
poor wretched Egyptians who gathered round us. "Oh that I could speak
their language, and tell them of salvation!" was his impassioned wish.

An event occurred at that time in which the hand of God afterwards
appeared very plain, though it then seemed very dark to us. Dr. Black
fell from his camel in the midst of the sandy desert, and none of all
our company could conjecture what bearing on the object of our Mission
this sad occurrence could have. Is it a frown on our undertaking? or can
it really be a movement of his kind, guiding hand? We often spoke of it:
in our visit to Galilee we thought that we saw some purposes evolving;
but there was still something unexplained. Now, however, the reason
appears: even that event was of the Lord, in wise and kind design. But
for that fall, our fathers in the deputation would not have sailed up
the Danube on their way to Vienna, and Pesth would not have been
visited. This accident, which mainly disabled Dr. Black from undertaking
the after fatigue of exploring Galilee, was the occasion of directing
the steps of our two fathers to that station, where a severe stroke of
sickness was made the means of detaining Dr. Keith till they had learned
that there was an open door among the Jews. And there, accordingly it
has been that the Lord has poured down his Spirit on the Jews that have
come to our missionaries so remarkably, that no Jewish Mission seems
ever to have been blessed with deeper conversions. There is nothing but
truth in the remark made by one of our number: "Dr. Black's fall from
the camel was the first step towards Pesth." "Whoso is wise, and will
observe these things, even they shall understand the loving kindness of
the Lord," Psalm 107:42. Indeed, whether it was that we were prepared to
expect, and therefore were peculiarly ready to observe, or whether it
was really the case that the watchful eye of our Lord specially guided
us, certain it is that we thought we could perceive the whole course we
took signally marked by Providence. There were many prayers in Scotland
ascending up in our behalf, and the High Priest gave the answer by
shining upon our path. Mr. M'Cheyne has stated: "For much of our safety
I feel indebted to the prayers of my people, I mean the Christians among
them, who do not forget us. If the veil of the world's machinery were
lifted off, how much we would find is done in answer to the prayers of
God's children."

Many things lost somewhat of their importance in our view, when
examined amid the undistracted reflections of the long desert journey,
where for many days we had quiet, like the quiet of death, around us
all night long, and even during the bright day. It is the more
interesting on this very account, to know his feelings there on the
subject of the ministry. As his camel slowly bore him over the soft
sandy soil, much did he ruminate on the happy days when he was
permitted to use all his strength in preaching Jesus to dying men.
"Use your health while you have it, my dear friend and brother. Do not
cast away peculiar opportunities that may never come again. You know
not when your last Sabbath with your people may come. Speak for
eternity. Above all things, cultivate your own spirit. A word spoken
by you when your conscience is clear, and your heart full of God's
Spirit, is worth ten thousand words spoken in unbelief and sin. This
was my great fault in the ministry. Remember it is God, and not man,
that must have the glory. It is not much speaking, but much faith,
that is needed. Do not forget us. Do not forget the Saturday night
meeting, nor the Monday morning thanksgiving." Thus he wrote on his
way to a fellow-laborer in Scotland.

On our first Sabbath in the Holy Land, our tent had been pitched in
the vicinity of a colony of ants. It was in the tribe of Simeon we
were encamped; it was the scenery of the Promised Land we had around
us; and one of the similitudes of the blessed word was illustrated
within our view. He opened his Bible at Prov. 6:6-8, and, as he read,
noted - "I. _Consider her ways._ Most souls are lost for want of
consideration. II. _The ant has no guide, overseer, or ruler_; no
officer, no one to command or encourage her. How differently situated
is the child of God! III. _Provideth her meat in the summer, etc._
Some have thought that this teaches us to heap up money; but quite the
reverse. The ant lays up no store for the future. It is all for
present use. She is always busy summer and winter. The lesson is one
of constant diligence in the Lord's work."

Many a time in these days, when our attendants in the evening were
driving in the stakes of our tent and stretching its cords, he would
lie down on the ground under some tree that sheltered him from the
dew. Completely exhausted by the long day's ride, he would lie almost
speechless for half an hour; and then, when the palpitation of his
heart had a little abated, would propose that we two should pray
together. Often, too, did he say to me, when thus stretched on the
ground, - not impatiently, but very earnestly, - "Shall I ever preach to
my people again?" I was often reproved by his unabated attention to
personal holiness; for this care was never absent from his mind,
whether he was at home in his quiet chamber, or on the sea, or in the
desert. Holiness in him was manifested, not by efforts to perform
duty, but in a way so natural, that you recognized therein the easy
outflowing of the indwelling Spirit. The fountain springing up into
everlasting life (John 4:14) in his soul, welled forth its living
waters alike in the familiar scenes of his native Scotland, and under
the olive-tree of Palestine. Prayer and meditation on the word were
never forgotten; and a peace that the world could not give kept his
heart and mind. When we were detained a day at Gaza, in very
tantalizing circumstances, his remark was, "_Jehovah Jireh_; we are at
that mount again." It was sweet at any time to be with him, for both
nature and grace in him drew the very heart; but there were moments of
enjoyment in these regions of Palestine that drew every cord still
closer, and created unknown sympathies. Such was that evening when we
climbed Samson's Hill together. Sitting there, we read over the
references to the place in the word of God; and then he took out his
pencil and sketched the scene, as the sun was sinking in the west.
This done, we sang some verses of a psalm, appropriate to the spot,
offered up prayer, and, slowly descending, conversed of all we saw,
and of all that was brought to mind by the scenery around us, till we
reached our tent.

In approaching Jerusalem, we came up the Pass of Latroon. He writes:
"The last day's journey to Jerusalem was the finest I ever had in all
my life. For four hours we were ascending the rocky pass upon our
patient camels. It was like the finest of our Highland scenes, only
the trees and flowers, and the voice of the turtle, told us that it
was Immanuel's land." Riding along, he remarked, that to have seen the
plain of Judea and this mountain-pass, was enough to reward us for all
our fatigue; and then began to call up passages of the Old Testament
Scriptures which might seem to refer to such scenery as that before

During our ten days at Jerusalem, there were few objects within reach
that we did not eagerly seek to visit. "We stood at the turning of the
road where Jesus came near and beheld the city and wept over it. And
if we had had more of the mind that was in Jesus, I think we should
have wept also." This was his remark in a letter homeward; and to Mr.
Bonar of Larbert he expressed his feelings in regard to the Mount of
Olives and its vicinity: "I remember the day when I saw you last, you
said that there were other discoveries to be made than those in the
physical world, - that there were sights to be seen in the spiritual
world, and depths to be penetrated of far greater importance. I have
often thought of the truth of your remark. But if there is a place on
earth where physical scenery can help us to discover divine things, I
think it is Mount Olivet. Gethsemane at your feet leads your soul to
meditate on Christ's love and determination to undergo divine wrath
for us. The cup was set before Him there, and there He said. 'Shall I
not drink it?' The spot where He wept makes you think of his divine
compassion, mingling with his human tenderness, - his awful justice,
that would not spare the city, - his superhuman love, that wept over
its coming misery! Turning the other way, and looking to the
south-east, you see Bethany, reminding you of his love to his
own, - that his name is love, - that in all our afflictions He is
afflicted, - that those who are in their graves shall one day come
forth at his command. A little farther down you see the Dead Sea,
stretching far among the mountains its still and sullen waters. This
deepens and solemnizes all, and makes you go away, saying, 'How shall
we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?'"

He wrote to another friend in Scotland, from Mount Zion, where we were
then dwelling: -

Mount Zion, _June 12, 1839._

"MY DEAR FRIEND, - Now that we are in the most wonderful spot in
all this world, - where Jesus lived and walked, and prayed and
died, and will come again, - I doubt not you will be anxious to
hear how we come on. I am thankful that ever He privileged us to
come to this land. I heard of my flock yesterday by a letter from
home, - the first I have received, dated 8th May.... We are living
in one of the missionaries' houses on Mount Zion. My window looks
out upon where the Temple was, the beautiful Mount of Olives
rising behind. The Lord that made heaven and earth, bless thee
out of Zion. - Yours," etc.

One evening, after our visit to Sychar, he referred to the Bible which
I had dropped into Jacob's Well. We were then resting from our journey
in our tents. Soon after he penned on a leaf of his note-book the
following fragment: -

My own loved Bible, must I part from thee,
Companion of my toils by land and sea;
Man of my counsels, soother of distress,
Guide of my steps through this world's wilderness
In darkest nights, a lantern to my feet;
In gladsome days, as dropping honey sweet.
When first I parted from my quiet home,
At thy command, for Israel's good to roam.
Thy gentle voice said, "For Jerusalem pray,
So shall Jehovah prosper all thy way."
When through the lonely wilderness we strayed,
Sighing in vain for palm-trees' cooling shade,
Thy words of comfort hushed each rising fear,
"The shadow of thy mighty Rock is near."
And when we pitched our tents on Judah's hills,
Or thoughtful mused beside Siloa's rills;
Whene'er we climbed Mount Olivet, to gaze
Upon the sea, where stood in ancient days
The heaven-struck Sodom -
Sweet record of the past, to faith's glad eyes,
Sweet promiser of glories yet to rise![14]

[14] It is a somewhat curious occurrence, that the remnants of
this Bible were found and drawn up from the bottom of the well,
in July 1843, by Dr. Wilson and his fellow-traveller, who
employed a Samaritan from Sychar to descend and examine the well.

At the foot of Carmel, during the seven days we were in quarantine
under the brow of the hill, we had time to recall many former scenes;
and in these circumstances he wrote the hymn, _The Fountain of

Here, too, he had leisure to write home; and most graphically does he
describe our journey from Alexandria onward.

CARMEL, _June 26, 1839_

"MY DEAR FATHER, MOTHER, etc. - It is a long time since I have
been able to write to you, - this being the first time since
leaving Egypt that any one has appeared to carry letters for us.
I must therefore begin by telling you that, by the good hand of
our God upon me, I am in excellent health, and have been ever
since I wrote you last. Fatigues we have had many, and much
greater than I anticipated; hardships and dangers we have also
encountered, but God has brought us all safely through, and in
fully better condition than when we began. You must not imagine
that I have altogether lost the palpitation of my heart, for it
often visits me to humble and prove me; still I believe it is a
good deal better than it was, and its visits are not nearly so
frequent. I hope very much, that in a cold bracing climate, and
with less fatigue, I may perhaps not feel it at all. I was very
thankful to receive your letter, dated 8th May, - the first since
leaving home. I was delighted to hear of your health and safety,
and of the peaceful communion at St. Peter's. The public news was
alarming and humbling.[15] I suppose I had better begin at the
beginning, and go over all our journeyings from the land of Egypt
through the howling wilderness to this sweet land of promise. I
would have written _journalwise_ (as my mother would say) from
time to time, so that I might have had an interesting budget of
news ready; but you must remember it is a more fatiguing thing to
ride twelve or fourteen hours on a camel's back, in a sandy
wilderness, than in our home excursions; and I could often do
nothing more than lie down on my rug and fall asleep.

[15] He alludes here to the decision of the House of Lords in the
Auchterarder case.

"We left Alexandria on 16th May 1839, parting from many kind
friends in that strange city. We and our baggage were mounted on
seventeen donkeys, like the sons of Jacob, when they carried corn
out of Egypt. Our saddle was our bedding, viz. a rug to lie on, a
pillow for the head, and a quilt to wrap ourselves in. We
afterwards added a straw mat to put below all. We had procured
two tents, - one large, and a smaller one which Andrew and I
occupy. The donkeys are nice nimble little animals, going about
five miles an hour; a wild Arab accompanies each donkey. We have
our two Arab servants, to whom I now introduce you, - Ibrahim, a
handsome small-made Egyptian, and Achmet the cook, a dark
good-natured fellow, with a white turban and bare black legs.
Ibrahim speaks a little English and Italian, and Achmet Italian,
in addition to their native Arabic. I soon made friends with our
Arab donkey-men, learning Arabic words and phrases; from them,
which pleased them greatly. We journeyed by the Bay of Aboukir,
close by the sea, which tempered the air of the desert. At night
we reached Rosetta, a curious half-inhabited eastern town. We saw
an eastern marriage, which highly pleased us, illustrating the
parables. It was by torch-light. We slept in the convent. 17.
Spent morning in Rosetta; gave the monk a New Testament. Saw some
of Egyptian misery in the bazaar. Saw the people praying in the
mosque, Friday being the Moslem's day of devotion. In the evening
we crossed the Nile in small boats. It is a fine river; and its
water, when filtered, is sweet and pleasant. We often thought
upon it in the desert. We slept that night on the sand in our
tents, by the sea-shore. 18. - In six hours we came to Bourlos
(you will see it in the map of the Society for Diffusing Useful
Knowledge): were ferried across. Watched the fishermen casting
their nets into the sea: hot - hot. In two hours more through a
palmy wilderness, we came to Balteen, - 'the Vale of Figs,' an
Arab village of mud huts. You little know what an Arab house is.
In general, in Egypt, it is an exact square box made of mud, with
a low hole for a door. The furniture is a mat and cooking things;
an oven made of mud. 19. - Spent our Sabbath unoccupied in midst
of the village; the poor Arabs have no Sabbath. The thermometer
84° in tent. The governor called in the evening, and drank a cup
of tea with great relish. The heat we felt much all day; still it
was sweet to rest and remember you all in the wilderness. 20. - At
twelve at night, left Balteen by beautiful moonlight. Proceeding
through a pleasant African wild of palms and brushwood, we
reached the sea in two hours, and rode along, its waves washing
our feet: very sleepy. We got a rest at mid-day, if rest it could
be called, under that scorching sun, which I never will forget.
Proceeding onward, at three o'clock we left the sea-shore, and
perceived the minarets of Damietta. Before us the mirage cheated
us often when we were very thirsty. We crossed the Nile again, a
much smaller branch, - the only remaining one, - and soon found
ourselves comfortably reclining on the divan of the British
Consul, an Egyptian gentleman of some fortune and manners. He
entertained us at supper in true Egyptian style; provided a room
for us, where we spread our mats in peace. We spent the whole of
the next day here, having sent off a Bedouin to have camels ready
for us at San. The Consul entertained us in the same Egyptian
style of hospitality, and sent us away the next day on board of a
barge upon Lake Menzaleh. 22. - Even E - - would not have been
afraid to sail upon the lake. It is nowhere more than ten feet
deep, and in general only four or five. We made an awning with
our mats, and spent a very happy day. At evening we entered a
canal among immense reeds. In moonlight the scene was truly
romantic; we slept moored to the shore all night. Next morning
(23) we reached San about ten. This evening and next morning we
spent in exploring the ruins of the ancient Zoan, for this we
find is the very spot.

"Wandering alone, we were quite surprised to find great mounds of
brick, and pottery, and vitrified stones. Andrew at last came
upon beautiful obelisks. Next morning we examined all carefully,
and found two sphinxes and many Egyptian obelisks. How wonderful
to be treading over the ruins of the ancient capital of Egypt!
Isaiah 19:12. 'Where are the princes of Zoan?' Ezek. 30:14, 'God
has set fire in Zoan.' This is the very place where Joseph was
sold as a slave, and where Moses did his wonders, Psalm 78:43.
This was almost the only place where we have been in danger from
the inhabitants. They are a wild race; and our Arabs were afraid
of them. You would have been afraid too, if you had seen, out of
the door of our tent, our Bedouins keeping watch all night with
their naked sabres gleaming in the moonlight, firing off their
guns now and then, and keeping up a low chaunt to keep one
another awake. No evil happened to us, and we feel that many pray
for us, and that God is with us. 24. - This day our journeyings on
camels commenced and continued till we came to Jerusalem. It is a
strange mode of conveyance. You have seen a camel kneeling; it is
in this condition that you mount; suddenly it rises first on its
fore feet, and then on its hind feet. It requires great skill to
hold yourself on during this operation; one time I was thrown
fair over its head, but quite unhurt. When you find yourself
exalted on the hunch of a camel, it is somwhat of the feeling of
an aeronaut, as if you were bidding farewell to sublunary things;
but when he begins to move, with solemn pace and slow, you are
reminded of your terrestrial origin, and that a wrong balance or
turn to the side will soon bring you down from your giddy height.
You have no stirrup, and generally only your bed for your saddle;
you may either sit as on horseback, or as on a sidesaddle, - the
latter is the pleasanter, though not the safer of the two. The
camel goes about three miles an hour, and the step is so long
that the motion is quite peculiar. You bend your head toward your
knees every step. With a vertical sun above and a burning sand

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Online LibraryAndrew A. BonarThe Biography of Robert Murray M'Cheyne → online text (page 10 of 17)