Andrew A. Bonar.

The Biography of Robert Murray M'Cheyne online

. (page 15 of 17)
Online LibraryAndrew A. BonarThe Biography of Robert Murray M'Cheyne → online text (page 15 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

never wanted success. I do not think I can speak a month in this
parish without winning some souls. This very week, I think, has
been a fruitful one, - more so than many for a long time, which
perhaps was intended graciously to free me from all hesitation
in declining your kind offer. I mention these things not, I
trust, boastfully, but only to show you the ground upon which I
feel it to be my duty not for a moment to entertain the
proposal. I have 4000 souls here hanging on me. I have as much
of this world's goods as I care for. I have full liberty to
preach the gospel night and day; and the Spirit of God is often
with us. What can I desire more? 'I dwell among mine own
people.' Hundreds look to me as a father; and I fear I would be
but a false shepherd if I were to leave them when the clouds of
adversity are beginning to lower. I know the need of Kettle, and
its importance; and also the dark prospect of your getting a
godly minister. Still that is a future event in the hand of God.
My duty is made plain and simple according to God's word.

"Praying that the Lord Jesus may send you a star from his own
right hand, believe me to be," etc.

It was during this year that the Sabbath question began to interest
him so much. His tract, _I Love the Lord's Day_, was published
December 18; but he had already exerted himself much in this cause, as
convener of the Committee of Presbytery on Sabbath Observance, and had
written his well-known letter to one of the chief defenders of the
Sabbath desecration. He continued unceasingly to use every effort in
this holy cause. And is it not worth the prayers and self-denying
efforts of every believing man? Is not that day set apart as a season
wherein the Lord desires the refreshing rest of his own love to be
offered to a fallen world? Is it not designed to be a day on which
every other voice and sound is to be hushed, in order that the silver
trumpets may proclaim atonement for sinners? Nay, it is understood to
be a day wherein God himself stands before the altar and pleads with
sinners to accept the Lamb slain, from morning to evening. Who is
there that does not see the deep design of Satan in seeking to effect
an inroad on this most merciful appointment of God our Saviour?

Mr. M'Cheyne's own conduct was in full accordance with his principles
in regard to strict yet cheerful Sabbath observance. Considering it
the summit of human privilege to be admitted to fellowship with God,
his principle was, that the Lord's day was to be spent wholly in the
enjoyment of that sweetest privilege. A letter, written at a later
period, but bearing on this subject, will show how he felt this day to
be better than a thousand. An individual, near Inverness, had
consulted him on a point of sabbatical casuistry: the question was,
Whether or not it was sinful to spend time in registering
meteorological observations on the Sabbaths? His reply was the
following, marked by a holy wisdom, and discovering the place which
the Lord held in his inmost soul: -

"_Dec. 7, 1842_

"DEAR FRIEND, - You ask me a hard question. Had you asked me _what
I would do in the case_, I could easily tell you. I love the
Lord's day too well to be marking down the height of the
thermometer and barometer every hour. I have other work to do,
higher and better, and more like that of angels above. The more
entirely I can give my Sabbaths to God, and half forget that I am
not before the throne of the Lamb, with my harp of gold, the
happier am I, and I feel it my duty to be as happy as I can be,
and as God intended me to be. The joy of the Lord is my strength.
But whether another Christian can spend the Sabbath is his
service, and mark down degrees of heat and atmospherical
pressure, without letting down the warmth of his affections, or
losing the atmosphere of heaven, I cannot tell. My conscience is
not the rule of another man. One thing we may learn from these
men of science, namely, to be as careful in marking the changes
and progress of our own spirit, as they are in marking the
changes of the weather. An hour should never pass without our
looking up to God for forgiveness and peace. This is the noblest
science, to know how to live in hourly communion with God in
Christ. May you and I know more of this, and thank God that we
are not among the wise and prudent from whom these things are
hid! - The grace of the Lord of the Sabbath be with you," etc.

Up till this period, the _Narrative of our Mission to Israel_ had not
been given to the public. Interruptions, arising from multiplicity of
labors and constant calls of duty, had from time to time come in our
way. Mr. M'Cheyne found it exceedingly difficult to spare a day or two
at a time in order to take part. "I find it hard work to carry on the
work of a diligent pastor and that of an author at the same time. How
John Calvin would have smiled at my difficulties!" At length, however,
in the month of March 1842, we resolved to gain time by exchanging
each other's pastoral duties for a month. Accordingly, during four or
five weeks, he remained in Collace, my flock enjoying his Sabbath-day
services and his occasional visits, while he was set free from what
would have been the never-ceasing interruptions of his own town.

Many a pleasant remembrance remains of these days, as sheet after
sheet passed under the eyes of our mutual criticism. Though intent on
accomplishing his work, he kept by his rule, "that he must first see
the face of God before he could undertake any duty." Often would he
wander in the mornings among the pleasant woods of Dunsinnan, till he
had drunk in refreshment to his soul by meditation on the word of God;
and then he took up the pen. And to a brother in the ministry, who had
one day broken in upon his close occupation, he afterwards wrote: "You
know you stole away my day; yet I trust all was not lost. I think I
have had more grace ever since that prayer among the fir-trees. Oh to
be _like_ Jesus, and _with_ him to all eternity!" Occasionally, during
the same period, he wrote some pieces for the _Christian's Daily
Companion_. The _Narrative_ was finished in May, and the Lord has made
it acceptable to the brethren.

When this work was finished, the Lord had other employment ready for
him in his own parish. His diary has this entry: "_May 22._ - I have
seen some very evident awakenings of late. J.G. awakened partly
through the word preached, and partly through the faithful warnings of
her fellow-servant. A.R., who has been for about a year in the deepest
distress, seeking rest, but finding none. B.M. converted last winter
at the Tuesday meeting in Annfield. She was brought very rapidly to
peace with God, and to a calm, sedate, prayerful state of mind. I was
surprised at the quickness of the work in this case, and pleased with
the clear tokens of grace; and now I see God's gracious end in it.
She was to be admitted at last communion, but caught fever before the
Sabbath. On Tuesday last, she died in great peace and joy. When she
felt death coming on, she said, 'Oh death, death, come! let us sing!'
Many that knew her have been a good deal moved homeward by this solemn
providence. This evening, I invited those to come who are leaving the
parish at this term. About twenty came, to whom I gave tracts and
words of warning. _I feel persuaded that if I could follow the Lord
more fully myself, my ministry would be used to make a deeper
impression than it has yet done._"



"_My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish
his work._" - John 4:34.

During the summer of 1842, he was exposed to several attacks of
illness, experienced some severe personal trials, and felt the
assaults of sore temptation. His own words will best express his
state: "_July 17._ - I am myself much tempted, and have no hope, but as
a worm on the arm of Jesus." "Aug. 4. - Often, often, would I have been
glad to depart, and be with Christ. I am now much better in body and
mind, having a little of the presence of my beloved, whose absence is
death to me." The same month: "I have been carried through deep
waters, bodily and spiritual, since last we met." It was his own
persuasion that few had more to struggle with in the inner man. Who
can tell what wars go on within?

During this season of trial, he was invited to form one of a number of
ministers from Scotland, who were to visit the north of England, with
no other purpose than to preach the glad tidings. The scheme was
planned by a Christian gentleman, who has done much for Christ in his
generation. When the invitation reached him, he was in the heat of his
furnace. He mentioned this to the brother who corresponded with him on
the subject, Mr. Purves of Jedburgh, whose reply was balm to his
spirit ... "I have a fellow-feeling with you in your present
infirmity, and you know for your consolation that another has, who is
a brother indeed. In all our afflictions, He is afflicted. He is, we
may say, the common heart of his people, for they are one body; and an
infirmity in the very remotest and meanest member is felt _there_ and
borne _there_. Let us console, solace, yea, satiate ourselves in Him,
as, amid afflictions especially, brother does in brother. It is
blessed to be like Him in everything, even in suffering. There is a
great want about all Christians who have not suffered. Some flowers
must be broken or bruised before they emit any fragrance. All the
wounds of Christ send out sweetness; all the sorrows of Christians do
the same. Commend me to a bruised brother, - a broken reed, - one like
the Son of man. The Man of Sorrows is never far from him. To me there
is something sacred and sweet in all suffering; it is so much akin to
the Man of Sorrows." It was thus he suffered, and thus that he was
comforted. He wrote back, agreeing to go, and added. "Remember me
especially, who am heavy laden oftentimes. My heart is all of sin; but
Jesus lives."

They set out for England. Mr. Purves, Mr. Somerville of Anderston, Mr.
Cumming of Dumbarney, and Mr. Bonar of Kelso, formed the company.
Their chief station was Newcastle, where Mr. Burns had been recently
laboring with some success, and where he had seen "a town giving
itself up to utter ungodliness, a town where Satan's trenches were
deep and wide, his wall strong and high, his garrison great and
fearless, and where all that man could do seemed but as arrows shot
against a tower of brass." But those who went knew that the Spirit of
God was omnipotent, and that He could take the prey from the mighty.

They preached both in the open air, and in the places of worship
belonging to the Presbyterians and to the Wesleyan Methodists. The
defenders of the Sabbath cause were specially prepared to welcome Mr.
M'Cheyne, whose tract on the Lord's Day has been widely circulated and
blessed. Many were attracted to hear; interesting congregations
assembled in the market-place, and there is reason to believe many
were impressed. A person in the town describes Mr. M'Cheyne's last
address as being peculiarly awakening. He preached in the open air, in
a space of ground between the Cloth Market and St. Nicholas' Church.
Above a thousand souls were present, and the service continued till
ten, without one person moving from the ground. The moon shone
brightly, and the sky was spangled with stars. His subject was, "The
Great White Throne" (Rev. 20:11). In concluding his address, he told
them "that they would never meet again till they all met at the
judgment-seat of Christ; but the glorious heavens over their heads,
and the bright moon that shone upon them, and the old venerable
church behind them, were his witnesses that he had set before them
life and death." Some will have cause to remember that night through

[19] He afterwards preached the same subject with equal
impressiveness in the Meadows at Dundee. It was in the open air and
the rain fell heavy, yet the dense crowd stood still to the last.

His preaching at Gilsland also was not without effect; and he had good
cause to bless the Lord for bringing him through Dumfriesshire in his
way homeward. He returned to his people in the beginning of September,
full of peace and joy. "I have returned much stronger, indeed quite
well. I think I have got some precious souls for my hire on my way
home. I earnestly long for more grace and personal holiness, and more

The sunsets during that autumn were peculiarly beautiful. Scarcely a
day passed but he gazed upon the glowing west after dinner; and as he
gazed he would speak of the Sun of Righteousness, or the joy of angels
in his presence, or the blessedness of those whose sun can go no more
down, till his face shone with gladness as he spoke. And during the
winter he was observed to be peculiarly joyful, being strong in body,
and feeling the near presence of Jesus in his soul. He lived in the
blessed consciousness that he was a child of God, humble and meek,
just because he was fully assured that Jehovah was his God and Father.
Many often felt that in prayer the name "Holy Father" was breathed
with peculiar tenderness and solemnity from his lips.

His flock in St. Peter's began to murmur at his absence, when again he
left them for ten days in November, to assist Mr. Hamilton of Regent
Square, London, at his communion. But it was his desire for souls that
thus led him from place to place, combined with a growing feeling that
the Lord was calling him to evangelistic more than to pastoral labors.
This visit was a blessed one; and the growth of his soul in holiness
was visible to many. During the days of his visit to Mr. Hamilton, he
read through the Song of Solomon at the time of family worship,
commenting briefly on it with rare gracefulness and poetic taste, and
yet rarer manifestation of soul-filling love to the Saviour's person.
The sanctified affections of his soul, and his insight into the mind
of Jesus, seemed to have much affected his friends on these

Receiving, while here, an invitation to return by the way of Kelso, he
replied: -

"London, _Nov. 5, 1842._

"My dear Horatius, - Our friends here will not let me away till
the Friday morning, so that it will require all my diligence to
reach Dundee before the Sabbath. I will thus be disappointed of
the joy of seeing you, and ministering a word to your dear flock.
Oh that my soul were new moulded, and I were effectually called a
second time, and made a vessel full of the Spirit, to tell only
of Jesus and his love! I fear I shall never be in this world what
I desire. I have preached three times here; a few tears also have
been shed. Oh for Whitfield's week in London, when a thousand
letters came! The same Jesus reigns; the same Spirit is able. Why
is He restrained? Is the sin ours? Are we the bottle-stoppers of
these heavenly dews? Ever yours till glory.

"_P.S._ - We shall meet, God willing, at the Convocation."

The memorable Convocation met at Edinburgh on November 17th. There
were five hundred ministers present from all parts of Scotland. The
encroachment of the civil courts upon the prerogatives of Christ, the
only Head acknowledged by our church, and the negligent treatment
hitherto given by the legislature of the country to every remonstrance
on the part of the church, had brought on a crisis. The Church of
Scotland had maintained, from the days of the Reformation, that her
connection with the State was understood to imply no surrender
whatsoever of complete independence in regulating all spiritual
matters; and to have allowed any civil authority to control her in
doctrine, discipline, or any spiritual act, would have been a daring
and flagrant act of treachery to her Lord and King. The deliberations
of the Convocation continued during eight days, and the momentous
results are well known in this land.

Mr. M'Cheyne was never absent from any of the diets of this solemn
assembly. He felt the deepest interest in every matter that came
before them, got great light as to the path of duty in the course of
the consultations, and put his name to all the resolutions, heartily
sympathizing in the decided determination that, as a church of Christ,
we must abandon our connection with the State, if our "Claim of
Rights" were rejected. These eight days were times of remarkable
union and prayerfulness. The proceedings, from time to time, were
suspended till the brethren had again asked counsel of the Lord by
prayer; and none present will forget the affecting solemnity with
which, on one occasion, Mr. M'Cheyne poured out our wants before the

He had a decided abhorrence of Erastianism. When the question was put
to him, "Is it our duty to refuse ordination to any one who holds the
views of Erastianism?" he replied, - "Certainly, whatever be his other
qualifications." He was ever a thorough Presbyterian, and used to
maintain the necessity of abolishing lay patronage, because, - 1st, It
was not to be found in the word of God; 2nd, It destroyed the duty of
"trying the spirits;" 3rd, It meddled with the headship of Christ,
coming in between Him and his people, saying, "I will place the
stars." But still more decided was he in regard to the spiritual
independence of the church. This he reckoned a vital question: and in
prospect of the disruption of the Church of Scotland, if it were
denied, he stated at a public meeting, - 1st, That it was to be
deplored in some respects, viz., because of the sufferings of God's
faithful servants, the degradation of those who remained behind, the
alienation of the aristocracy, the perdition of the ungodly, and the
sin of the nation. But, 2nd, It was to be hailed for other reasons,
viz., Christ's kingly offices would be better known, the truth would
be spread into desolate parishes, and faithful ministers would be
refined. And when, on March 7th of the following year, the cause of
the church was finally to be pleaded at the bar of the House of
Commons, I find him writing: "Eventful night this in the British
Parliament! Once more King Jesus stands at an earthly tribunal, and
they know Him not!"

An interesting anecdote is related of him by a co-presbyter, who
returned with him to Dundee after the Convocation. This co-presbyter,
Mr. Stewart, was conversing with him as to what it might be their duty
to do in the event of the disruption, and where they might be
scattered. Mr. Stewart said he could preach Gaelic, and might go to
the Highlanders in Canada, if it were needful. Mr. M'Cheyne said, "I
think of going to the many thousand convicts that are transported
beyond seas, for no man careth for their souls."

We have not many records of his public work after this date. Almost
the last note in his diary is dated December 25: "This day ordained
four elders, and admitted a fifth, who will all, I trust, be a
blessing in this place when I am gone. Was graciously awakened a great
while before day, and had two hours alone with God. Preached with much
comfort on I Tim. 5:17, 'Let the elders that rule well,' etc. At the
end of the sermon and prayer, proposed the regular questions; then
made the congregation sing standing; during which time I came down
from the pulpit and stood over the four men, then prayed, and all the
elders gave the right hand of fellowship, during which I returned to
the pulpit, and addressed them and the congregation on their relative
duties. Altogether a solemn scene."

The last recorded cases of awakening, and the last entry in his diary,
is dated January 6, 1843: "Heard of an awakened soul finding
rest - true rest, I trust. Two new cases of awakening; both very deep
and touching. At the very time when I was beginning to give up in
despair, God gives me tokens of his presence returning."

He here speaks of discouragement, when God for a few months or weeks
seemed to be withholding his hand from saving souls. If he was not
right in thus hastily forgetting the past for a little, still this
feature of his ministry is to be well considered. He entertained so
full a persuasion that a faithful minister has every reason to expect
to see souls converted under him, that when this was withheld, he
began to fear that some hidden evil was provoking the Lord and
grieving the Spirit. And ought it not to be so with all of us? Ought
we not to suspect, either that we are not living near to God, or that
our message is not a true transcript of the glad tidings, in both
matter and manner, when we see no souls brought to Jesus? God may
certainly hide from our knowledge much of what He accomplishes by our
means, but as certainly will He bring to our view some seals of our
ministry, in order that our persuasion of being thus sent by Him may
solemnize and overawe us, as well as lead us on to unwearied labor.
Ought it not to be the inscription over the doors of our Assembly and
College halls: "_Thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to
triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by
us in every place?_" II Cor. 2:14.

About this time, in one of his MSS., there occurs this sentence: "As I
was walking in the fields, the thought came over me with almost
overwhelming power, that every one of my flock must soon be in heaven
or hell. Oh, how I wished that I had a tongue like thunder, that I
might make all hear; or that I had a frame like iron, that I might
visit every one, and say, 'Escape for thy life!' Ah, sinners! you
little know how I fear that you will lay the blame of your damnation
at my door."

He was never satisfied with his own attainments in holiness; he was
ever ready to learn, and quick to apply, any suggestion that might
tend to his greater usefulness. About this period he used to sing a
psalm or hymn every day after dinner. It was often, "The Lord's my
shepherd," etc.; or, "Oh may we stand before the Lamb!" etc. Sometimes
it was that hymn, _Oh for a closer walk with God!_ and sometimes the
psalm, "Oh that I like a dove had wings!" etc. A friend said of him.
"I have sometimes compared him to the silver and graceful ash, with
its pensile branches, and leaves of gentle green, reflecting gleams of
happy sunshine. The fall of its leaf, too, is like the fall of
his, - it is green to-night and gone to-morrow, it does not sere nor

An experienced servant of God has said, that, while popularity is a
snare that few are not caught by, a more subtle and dangerous snare is
to be _famed for holiness_. The fame of being a godly man is as great
a snare as the fame of being learned or eloquent. It is possible to
attend with scrupulous anxiety even to secret habits of devotion, in
order to get a name for holiness.[20] If any were exposed to this
snare in his day, Mr. M'Cheyne was the person. Yet nothing is more
certain than that, to the very last, he was ever discovering, and
successfully resisting, the deceitful tendencies of his own heart and
a tempting devil. Two things he seems never to have ceased from, - the
cultivation of personal holiness, and the most anxious efforts to save

[20] How true, yet awful, is the language of Dr Owen (quoted in
Bridges' _Christian Ministry_, p. 168), "He that would go down to
the pit in peace, let him obtain a great repute for religion; let
him preach and labour to make other better than he is himself, and
in the meantime neglect to humble his heart, to walk with God in
manifest holiness and usefulness, and he will not fail of his end."

About this time he wrote down, for his own use, an examination into
things that ought to be amended and changed. I subjoin it entire. How
singularly close and impartial are these researches into his soul! How
acute is he in discovering his variations from the holy law of God! Oh
that we all were taught by the same spirit thus to try our reins! It
is only when we are thus thoroughly experiencing our helplessness, and
discovering the thousand forms of indwelling sin, that we really sit
as disciples at Christ's feet, and gladly receive Him as all in all!
And at each such moment we feel in the spirit of Ignatius, "[Greek:
Nyn gar archên echô tou mathêteuesthai]" - "It is only now that I
begin to be a disciple."

Mr. M'Cheyne entitles the examination of his heart and life
_"Reformation"_ and it commences thus: -

"It is the duty of ministers in this day to begin the
reformation of religion and manners with themselves, families,
etc., with confession of past sin, earnest prayer for direction,

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 15 17

Online LibraryAndrew A. BonarThe Biography of Robert Murray M'Cheyne → online text (page 15 of 17)