Andrew A. Bonar.

The Biography of Robert Murray M'Cheyne online

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hour and a half, in order that all who attended might form their
pastoral arrangements for the day, without fear of being hindered;
and, in addition to prayer, those present conversed on some selected
topic, vitally connected with their duties as ministers of Christ. Mr.
M'Cheyne was never absent from this prayer-meeting unless through
absolute necessity, and the brethren scarcely remember any occasion on
which some important remark did not drop from his lips. He himself
reaped great profit from it. He notes, _Dec. 8_: "This has been a
deeply interesting week. On Monday our ministerial prayer-meeting was
set agoing in St. David's vestry. The hearts of all seem really in
earnest in it. The Lord answers prayer; may it be a great blessing to
our souls and to our flocks." Another time: "Meeting in St. David's
vestry. The subject of fasting was spoken upon. Felt exceedingly in my
own spirit how little we feel real grief on account of sin before
God, or we would often lose our appetite for food. When parents lose a
child, they often do not taste a bit from morning to night, out of
pure grief. Should we not mourn as for an only child? How little of
the spirit of grace and supplication we have then!" On _Dec. 30_:
"Pleasant meeting of ministers. Many delightful texts on 'Arguments to
be used with God in prayer.' How little I have used these! Should we
not study prayer more?"

Full as he was of affection and Christian kindness to all believers,
he was specially so to the faithful brethren in the gospel of Christ.
Perhaps there never was one who more carefully watched against the
danger of undervaluing precious men, and detracting from a brother's
character. Although naturally ambitious, grace so wrought in him, that
he never sought to bring himself into view; and most cheerfully would
he observe and take notice of the graces and gifts of others. Who is
there of us that should ever feel otherwise? "For the body is not one
member, but many." And "the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no
need of thee; nor, again, the head to the feet, I have no need of

All with whom he was intimate still remember with gratitude how
faithfully and anxiously he used to warn his friends of whatever he
apprehended they were in danger from. To Mr. W.C. Burns he wrote,
_Dec. 31, 1839_: "Now, the Lord be your strength, teacher, and guide.
I charge you, be clothed with humility, or you will yet be a wandering
star, for which is reserved the blackness of darkness forever. Let
Christ increase; let man decrease. This is my constant prayer for
myself and you. If you lead sinners to yourself and not to Christ,
Immanuel will cast the star out of his right hand into utter darkness.
Remember what I said of preaching out of the Scriptures: honor the
word both in the matter and manner. Do not cease to pray for me." At
another time (November 3, 1841), he thus wrote to the same friend:
"Now remember Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone. Looking
at our own shining face is the bane of the spiritual life and of the
ministry. Oh for closest communion with God, till soul and body - head,
face, and heart - shine with divine brilliancy! but oh for a holy
ignorance of our shining! Pray for this; for you need it as well as

To another friend in the ministry who had written to him despondingly
about his people and the times, his reply was, "I am sure there never
was a time when the Spirit of God was more present in Scotland, and it
does not become you to murmur in your tents, but rather to give
thanks. Remember, we may grieve the Spirit as truly by not joyfully
acknowledging his wonders as by not praying for Him. There is the
clearest evidence that God is saving souls in Kilsyth, Dundee, Perth,
Collace, Blairgowrie, Strathbogie, Ross-shire, Breadalbane, Kelso,
Jedburgh, Ancrum; and surely it becomes us to say, 'I thank my God
upon every remembrance of you.' Forgive my presumption; but I fear
lest you hurt your own peace and usefulness in not praising God enough
for the operation of his hands." To another: "I have told you that you
needed trial, and now it is come. May you be exercised thereby, and
come to that happy 'afterwards' of which the apostle speaks," To the
same again "Remember the necessity of your own soul, and do not grow
slack or lean in feeding others. 'Mine own vineyard have I not kept.'
Ah, take heed of that!" And in a similar tone of faithfulness at an
after period: "Remember the case of your own soul. 'What will it
profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?' Remember
how often Paul appeals to his holy, just, unblameable life. Oh that we
may be able always to do the same!" "Remember the priming-knife," he
says to another, "and do not let your vine run to wood." And after a
visit to Mr. Thornton of Milnathort, in whose parish there had been an
awakening, he asks a brother, "Mr. Thornton is willing that others be
blessed more than himself; do you think that you have that grace? I
find that I am never so successful as when I can lie at Christ's feet,
willing to be used or not as seemeth good in his sight. Do you
remember David? 'If the Lord say, I have no delight in thee; behold,
here am I; let Him do to me as seemeth good unto Him.'"

In his familiar letters, as in his life, there was the manifestation
of a bright, cheerful soul, without the least tendency to levity. When
his medical attendant had, on one occasion, declined any remuneration,
Mr. M'Cheyne peremptorily opposed his purpose; and to overcome his
reluctance, returned the inclosure in a letter, in which he used his
poetical gifts with most pleasant humor.

To many it was a subject of wonder that he found time to write
letters that always breathed the name of Jesus, amid his innumerable
engagements. But the truth was, his letters cost him no expenditure of
time; they were ever the fresh thoughts and feelings of his soul at
the moment he took up the pen; his habitual frame of soul is what
appears in them all; the calm, holy, tenderly affectionate style of
his letters reminds us of Samuel Rutherford, whose works he delighted
to read, - excepting only that his joy never seems to have risen to
ecstasies. The selection of his letters which I have made for
publication, may exhibit somewhat of his holy skill in dropping a word
for his Master on all occasions. But what impressed many yet more, was
his manner of introducing the truth, most naturally and strikingly,
even in the shortest note he penned; and there was something so
elegant, as well as solemn, in his few words at the close of some of
his letters, that these remained deep in the receiver's heart. Writing
to Mr. G.S., on July 28, 1841, he thus draws to a close: "Remember me
to H.T. I pray he may be kept abiding in Christ. Kindest regards to
his mother. Say to her from me, 'Pass the time of your sojourning here
in fear, forasmuch as ye know ye were not redeemed with corruptible
things such as silver and gold' (I Peter 1:17, 18). Keep your own
heart, dear brother, 'in the love of God' (Jude 21) - in his love to
you, and that will draw your love to Him. Kindest remembrances to your
brother. Say to him, 'Be sober and hope to the end' (I Peter 1:13). To
your own dear mother say, 'He doth not afflict willingly.' Write me
soon. - Ever yours, till time shall be no more." In a note to the
members of his own family: "The Tay is before me now like a
resplendent mirror, glistening in the morning sun. May the same sun
shine sweetly on you, and may He that makes it shine, shine into your
hearts to give you the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of
Jesus Christ. - In haste, your affectionate son and brother." There
were often such last words as the following: "Oh for drops in the
pastures of the wilderness! The smiles of Jesus be with you, and the
breathings of the Holy Ghost. Ever yours." (To Rev. J. Milne.) "May we
have gales passing from Perth to this, and from here to you, and from
heaven to both. Ever yours." (To the same.) "The time is short;
eternity is near; yea, the coming of Christ the second time is at
hand. Make sure of being one with the Lord Jesus, that you may be glad
when you see Him. Commending you all to our Father in heaven," etc.
(To his own brother.) "I have a host of letters before me, and
therefore can add no more. I give you a parting text, 'Sorrowful, yet
always rejoicing.'" Another: "Farewell! yours till the day dawn." To
the Rev. Hor. Bonar he says, at the close of a letter about some
ministerial arrangements: "I am humbled and cheered by what you say of
good done in Kelso. Roll on, roll on, river of God, that art full of
water! A woman came to me, awakened under your sermon to the children
in the Cross Church, very bitterly convinced of sin. Glory to the
Divine Archer, who bringeth down the people!" He closes a letter to a
student thus: "Grace be with you, and much of the knowledge of
Jesus - much of his likeness. I thirst for the knowledge of the word
but most of all of Jesus himself, the true Word. May He abide in you,
and you in Him! The Fear of Isaac watch over you." In concluding a
letter to Mr. Bonar of Larbert, in February 1843, some weeks before
his last illness, he writes: "My soul often goes out at the throne of
grace in behalf of Larbert and Dunipace. May the disruption be more
blessed to them than days of peace! How sweet to be in the ark when
the deluge comes down! Ever yours in gospel bonds."

The Jewish Mission continued near his heart, "the nearest," said he to
Mr. Edwards, who is now at Jassy, "of all missionary enterprises. Were
it not for my own unfitness, and also the success the Lord has given
me where I am, I would joyfully devote myself to it." In connection
with this cause, he was invited to visit Ireland, and be present at
the meeting of the Synod of our Presbyterian brethren in the summer of
1840. When preparing to set out, he notices the hand of his Master
guiding him: - "_July 2._ - Expected to have been in Ireland this day.
Detained by not being able to get supply for Sabbath, in the good
providence of God; for this evening there was a considerable awakening
in the church while I was preaching upon Phil. 3:18, 'Enemies of the
cross of Christ,' When that part was expounded, there was a loud and
bitter weeping, - probably thirty or forty seemed to share in it; the
rest deeply impressed, - many secretly praying." On the Sabbath
following, one person was so overcome as to be carried out of the

He set out for Ireland on the 7th, and on the 10th witnessed at
Belfast the union between the Synod of Ulster and the Secession. He
speaks of it as a most solemn scene - 500 ministers and elders present.
During his stay there, he pleaded the cause of the Jews in Mr.
Morgan's church, Mr. Wilson's, and some others; and also visited Mr.
Kirkpatrick at Dublin. He preached the way of salvation to the
Gentiles in all his pleadings for Israel. His visit was blessed to
awaken a deep interest in the cause of the Jews, and his words sank
into the consciences of some. His sermon on Ezek. 34:16 was felt by
some to be indescribably impressive; and when he preached on Rom.
1:16, 17, many ministers, as they came out, were heard saying, "How
was it we never thought of the duty of remembering Israel before?" On
another occasion, the people to whom he had preached entreated their
minister to try and get him again, and if he could not preach to them,
that at least he should pray once more with them.

He was not, however, long absent from home on this occasion. On the
25th I find him recording: "Reached home; entirely unprepared for the
evening. Spoke on Psalm 51:12, 13, 'Restore unto me the joy,' etc.
There seemed much of the presence of God, - first one crying out in
extreme agony, then another. Many were deeply melted, and all
solemnized. Felt a good deal of freedom in speaking of the glory of
Christ's salvation. Coming down, I spoke quietly to some whom I knew
to be under deep concern. They were soon heard together weeping
bitterly; many more joined them. Mr. Cumming spoke to them in a most
touching strain, while I dealt privately with several in the vestry.
Their cries were often very bitter and piercing, bitterest when the
freeness of Christ was pressed upon them, and the lion's nearness.
Several were offended; but I felt no hesitation as to our duty to
declare the simple truth impressively, and leave God to work in their
hearts in his own way. If He save souls in a quiet way, I shall be
happy; if in the midst of cries and tears, still I will bless his
name. One painful thing has occurred: a man who pretends to be a
missionary for Israel, and who brings forward the apocryphal book of
Enoch, has been among my people in my absence, and many have been led
after him. How humbling is this to them and to me! Lord, what is man!
This may be blessed, 1st, to discover chaff which we thought to be
wheat; 2nd, to lead some to greater distrust of themselves, when their
eyes are opened: 3rd, to teach me the need of solidly instructing
those who seem to have grace in their hearts."

The work of God went on, so much so at this time, that he gave it as
his belief, in a letter to Mr. Purves of Jedburgh, that for some
months about this period no minister of Christ had preached in a
lively manner, without being blessed to some soul among his flock.

In other places of Scotland also the Lord was then pouring out his
Spirit. Perth has been already mentioned, and its vicinity. Throughout
Ross-shire, whole congregations were frequently moved as one man, and
the voice of the minister drowned in the cries of anxious souls. At
Kelso, where Mr. Horace Bonar laboured, and at Jedburgh, where Mr.
Purves was pastor, a more silent, but very solid work of conversion
was advancing. At Ancrum (once the scene of John Livingston's
labors), the whole parish, but especially the men of the place, were
awakened to the most solemn concern. On Lochtayside, where Mr. Burns
was for a season laboring, there were marks of the Spirit everywhere;
and the people crossing the lake in hundreds, to listen to the words
of life on the hillside, called to mind the people of Galilee in the
days when the gospel began to be preached. At Lawers, Mr. Campbell,
their pastor (who has now fallen asleep in Jesus), spoke of the
awakening as "like a resurrection." so great and sudden was the change
from deadness to intense concern. On several occasions, the Spirit
seemed to sweep over the congregations like wind over the fields,
which bends the heavy corn to the earth. It was evident to discerning
minds that the Lord was preparing Scotland for some crisis not far

Several districts of Strathbogie had shared to some extent in a
similar blessing. Faithful ministers were now everywhere on the watch
for the shower, and were greatly strengthened to go forward boldly in
seeking to cleanse the sanctuary. It was their fond hope that the
Established Church of Scotland would soon become an example and
pattern to the nations of a pure church of Christ, acknowledged and
upheld by the State without being trammelled in any degree, far less
controlled by civil interference. But Satan was stirring up
adversaries on every side.

The Court of Session had adopted a line of procedure that was at once
arbitrary and unconstitutional. And now that Court interdicted, under
the penalty of fine or imprisonment, all the ministers of the Church
of Scotland from administering ordinances or preaching the word in any
of the seven parishes of Strathbogie, whose former incumbents had been
suspended from office by the General Assembly for ecclesiastical
offences. The church saw it to be her duty to refuse obedience to an
interdict which hindered the preaching of Jesus, and attempted to
crush her constitutional liberties. Accordingly, ministers were sent
to these districts, fearless of the result; and under their preaching
the gross darkness of the region began to give way to the light of

In the month of August, Mr. M'Cheyne was appointed, along with Mr.
Cumming of Dumbarney, to visit Huntly, and dispense the Lord's Supper
there. As he set out, he expressed the hope, that "the dews of the
Spirit there might be turned into the pouring rain." His own visit was
blessed to many. Mr. Cumming preached the action sermon in the open
air at the Meadow Well; but the tables were served within the building
where the congregation usually met. Mr. M'Cheyne preached in the
evening to a vast multitude at the well; and about a hundred waited
after sermon for prayer, many of them in deep anxiety.

He came to Edinburgh on the 11th, to attend the meeting of ministers
and elders who had come together to sign the _Solemn Engagement_ in
defence of the liberties of Christ's church. He hesitated not to put
his hand to the Engagement. He then returned to Dundee; and scarcely
had he returned, when he was laid aside by one of those attacks of
illness with which he was so often tried. In this case, however, it
soon passed away. "My health," he remarked, "has taken a gracious
turn, which should make me look up." But again, on September 6, an
attack of fever laid him down for six days. On this occasion, just
before the sickness came on, three persons had visited him, to tell
him how they were brought to Christ under his ministry some years
before. "Why," he noted in his journal, "Why has God brought these
cases before me _this week_? Surely He is preparing me for some trial
of faith." The result proved that his conjecture was just. And while
his Master prepared him beforehand for these trials, He had ends to
accomplish in his servant by means of them. There were other trials,
also, besides these, which were very heavy to him; but in all we could
discern the Husbandman pruning the branch, that it might bear more
fruit. As he himself said one day in the church of Abernyte, when he
was assisting Mr. Manson, "If we only saw the whole, we should see
that the Father is doing little else in the world but _training his

His preaching became more and more to him a work of faith. Often I
find him writing at the close or beginning of a sermon: "Master,
help!" "Help, Lord, help!" "Send showers;" "Pardon, give the Spirit,
and take the glory;" "May the opening of my lips he right things!" The
piercing effects of the word preached on souls at this season may be
judged of from what one of the awakened, with whom he was conversing,
said to him, "_I think hell would be some relief from an angry God._"

His delight in preaching was very great. He himself used to say that
he could scarcely ever resist an invitation to preach. And this did
not arise from the natural excitement there is in commanding the
attention of thousands; for he was equally ready to proclaim Christ to
small country flocks. Nay, he was ready to travel far to visit and
comfort even one soul. There was an occasion this year on which he
rode far to give a cup of cold water to a disciple, and his remark
was, "I observe how often Jesus went a long way for one soul, as for
example the maniac, and the woman of Canaan."

In February 1841, he visited Kelso and Jedburgh at the Communion
season; and gladly complied with an invitation to Ancrum also, that he
might witness the hand of the Lord. "Sweet are the spots," he wrote,
"where Immanuel has ever shown his glorious power in the conviction
and conversion of sinners. The world loves to muse on the scenes where
battles were fought and victories won. Should not we love the spots
where our great Captain has won his amazing victories? Is not the
conversion of a soul more worthy to be spoken of than the taking of
Acre?" At Kelso, some will long remember his remarks in visiting a
little girl, to whom he said, "Christ gives last knocks. When your
heart becomes hard and careless, then fear lest Christ may have given
a _last knock_." At Jedburgh, the impression left was chiefly that
there had been among them a man of peculiar holiness. Some felt, not
so much his words, as his presence and holy solemnity, as if one spoke
to them who was standing in the presence of God; and to others his
prayers appeared like the breathings of one already within the veil.

I find him proposing to a minister who was going up to the General
Assembly that year, "that the Assembly should draw out a _Confession
of Sin_ for all its ministers." The state, also, of parishes under the
direful influence of Moderatism, lay much upon his spirit. In his
diary he writes: "Have been laying much to heart the absolute
necessity laid upon the church of sending the gospel to our dead
parishes, during the life of the present incumbents. It is confessed
that many of our ministers do not preach the gospel - alas! because
they know it not. Yet they have complete control over their own
pulpits, and may never suffer the truth to be heard there during their
whole incumbency. And yet our church consigns these parishes to their
tender mercies for perhaps fifty years, without a sigh! Should not
certain men be ordained as evangelists, with full power to preach in
every pulpit of their district, - faithful, judicious, lively
preachers, who may go from parish to parish, and thus carry life into
many a dead corner?" This was a subject he often reverted to; and he
eagerly held up the example of the Presbytery of Aberdeen, who made a
proposal to this effect. From some of his later letters, it appears
that he had sometimes seriously weighed the duty of giving up his
fixed charge, if only the church would ordain him as an evangelist. So
deep were his feelings on this matter, that a friend relates of him,
that as they rode together through a parish where the pastor "clothed
himself with the wool, but fed not the flock," he knit his brow and
raised his hand with vehemence as he spoke of the people left to
perish under such a minister.

He was invited to visit Ireland again this year, his former visit
having been much valued by the Presbyterian brethren there. He did so
in July. Many were greatly stirred up by his preaching, and by his
details of God's work in Scotland. His sermon on Song 8:5, 6, is still
spoken of by many. His prayerfulness and consistent holiness left
enduring impressions on not a few; and it was during his visit that a
memorial was presented to the Irish Assembly in behalf of a Jewish
mission. His visit was in a great measure the means of setting that
mission on foot.

Cordially entering into the proposal of the concert for prayer, he
took part, in September of this year, in the preliminary meetings in
which Christians of all denominations joined. "How sweet are the
smallest approximations to unity!" is his remark in his diary. Indeed,
he so much longed for a scriptural unity, that some time after, when
the General Assembly had repealed the statute of 1799, he embraced the
opportunity of showing his sincere desire for unity, by inviting two
dissenting brethren to his pipit, and then writing in defence of his
conduct when attacked. In reference to this matter, he observed, in a
note to a friend: "I have been much delighted with the 25th and 26th
chapters of the _Confession of Faith_. Oh for the grace of the
Westminster divines to be poured out upon this generation of lesser

As it was evident that his Master owned his labor abundantly, by
giving him seals of his apostleship, there were attempts made
occasionally by zealous friends to induce him to remove to other
spheres. In all these cases, he looked simply at the apparent
indications of the Lord's will. Worldly interest seemed scarcely ever
to cross his mind in regard to such a matter, for he truly lived a
disinterested life. His views may be judged of by one instance, - a
letter to Mr. Heriot of Ramornie, in reference to a charge which many
were anxious to offer him: -

"Dundee, _Dec. 24, 1841_

"DEAR SIR, - I have received a letter from my friend Mr.
M'Farlane of Collessie, asking what I would do if the people of
Kettle were to write desiring me to be their minister. He also
desires me to send an answer to you. I have been asked to leave
this place again and again, but have never seen my way clear to
do so. I feel quite at the disposal of my Divine Master. I gave
myself away to Him when I began my ministry, and He has guided
me as by the Pillar Cloud from the first day till now. I think I
would leave this place to-morrow if He were to _bid_ me; but as
to _seeking removal, I dare not_ and _could not_. If my
ministry were unsuccessful, - if God frowned upon the place and
made my message void, - then I would willingly go, for I would
rather beg my bread than preach without success; but I have

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Online LibraryAndrew A. BonarThe Biography of Robert Murray M'Cheyne → online text (page 14 of 17)