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The Biography of Robert Murray M'Cheyne online

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these: "I often pray, Lord, make me as holy as a pardoned sinner can
be made." "Often, often I would like to depart and be with Christ - to
mount to Pisgah-top and take a farewell look of the church below, and
leave my body and be present with the Lord. Ah, it is far better!"
Again: "I do not expect to live long. I expect a sudden call some
day - perhaps soon, and therefore I speak very plainly." But, indeed,
he had long been persuaded that his course would be brief. His hearers
remember well how often he would speak in such language as that with
which he one day closed his sermon: "Changes are coming; every eye
before me shall soon be dim in death. Another pastor shall feed this
flock; another singer lead the psalm; another flock shall fill this

In the beginning of February, by appointment of the Committee of the
Convocation, he accompanied Mr. Alexander of Zirkcaldy to visit the
districts of Deer and Ellon - districts over which he yearned, for
Moderatism had held undisputed sway over them for generations. It was
to be his last evangelistic tour. He exemplified his own remark, "The
oil of the lamp in the temple burnt away in giving light; so should

He set out, says one that saw him leave town, as unclouded and happy
as the sky that was above his head that bright morning. During the
space of three weeks, he preached or spoke at meetings in
four-and-twenty places, sometimes more than once in the same place.
Great impression was made upon the people of the district. One who
tracked his footsteps a month after his death states, that sympathy
with the principles of our suffering church was awakened in many
places; but, above all, a thirst was excited for the pure word of
life. His eminently holy walk and conversation, combined with the deep
solemnity of his preaching, was specially felt. The people loved to
speak of him. In one place, where a meeting had been intimated, the
people assembled, resolving to cast stones at him as soon as he should
begin to speak; but so sooner had he begun, than his manner, his look,
his words, riveted them all, and they listened with intense
earnestness; and before he left the place, the people gathered round
him, entreating him to stay and preach to them. One man, who had cast
mud at him, was afterwards moved to tears on hearing of his death.

He wrote to Mr. Gatherer, February 14, "I had a nice opportunity of
preaching in Aberdeen; and in Peterhead our meeting was truly
successful. The minister of St. Fergus I found to be what you
described. We had a solemn meeting in his church. In Strichen, we had
a meeting in the Independent Meeting-house. On Friday evening, we had
two delightful meetings, in a mill at Crechie, and in the church of
Clola. The people were evidently much impressed, some weeping. On
Saturday evening we met in the Brucklay barn. I preached on Sabbath,
at New Deer in the morning, and at Fraserburgh in the evening - both
interesting meetings. To-night we met in Pitsligo church. To-morrow we
trust to be in Aberdour; and then we leave for the Presbytery of
Ellon. The weather has been delightful till now. To-day the snow is
beginning to drift. But God is with us, and He will carry us to the
very end. I am quite well, though a little fatigued sometimes." On the
24th, he writes to another friend, "To-day is the first we have
rested since leaving home, so that I am almost overcome with fatigue.
Do not be idle; improve in all useful knowledge. You know what an
enemy I am to idleness."

Never was it more felt that God was with him than in this journey. The
Lord seemed to show in him the meaning of the text, "Out of his belly
shall flow rivers of living water," John 7:38. Even when silent, the
near intercourse he held with God left its impression on those around.
His _constant holiness_ touched the conscience of many.

Returning to his beloved flock on March 1st, in good health, but much
exhausted, he related, next evening, at his prayer-meeting, what
things he had seen and heard. During the next twelve days he was to be
found going out and in among his people, filling up, as his manner
was, every inch of time. But he had been much weakened by his
unceasing exertions when in the north, and he was more than ordinarily
exposed to the typhus fever that was then prevailing in his parish,
several cases of which he visited in his enfeebled state.

On Sabbath the 5th, he preached three times; and two days after, I
find him writing to his father: "All domestic matters go on like a
placid stream - I trust not without its fertilizing influence. Nothing
is more improving than the domestic altar, when we come to it for a
daily supply of soul nourishment." To the last we get glances into his
soul's growth. His family devotions were full of life and full of
gladness to the end. Indeed, his very manner in reading the chapter
reminded you of a man poring into the sands for pieces of fine gold,
and from time to time holding up to you what he delighted to have

On Sabbath the 12th, he preached upon Heb. 9:15 in the forenoon, and
Rom. 9:22, 23, in the afternoon, with uncommon solemnity; and it was
observed, both then and on other late occasions, he spoke with
peculiar strength upon the sovereignty of God. These were his last
discourses to his people in St. Peter's. That same evening he went
down to Broughty Ferry, and preached upon Isaiah 60:1, "Arise, shine."
etc. It was the last time he was to be engaged directly in proclaiming
Christ to sinners; and as he began his ministry with souls for his
hire, so it appears that his last discourse had in it saving power to
some, and that rather from the holiness it breathed than from the
wisdom of its words. After his death, a note was found unopened,
which had been sent to him in the course of the following week, when
he lay in the fever. It ran thus: "I hope you will pardon a stranger
for addressing to you a few lines. I heard you preach last Sabbath
evening, and it pleased God to bless that sermon to my soul. It was
not so much what you said, as your manner of speaking that struck me.
I saw in you a beauty in holiness that I never saw before. You also
said something in your prayer that struck me very much. It was, '_Thou
knowest that we love Thee._' Oh, sir, what would I give that I could
say to my blessed Saviour, 'Thou knowest that I love Thee!'"

Next evening he held a meeting in St. Peter's, with the view of
organizing his people for collecting in behalf of the Free Protesting
Church, - the disruption of the Establishment being now inevitable. He
spoke very fervently; and after the meeting felt chilled and unwell.
Next morning he felt that he was ill; but went out in the afternoon to
the marriage of two of his flock. He seemed, however, to anticipate a
serious attack, for, on his way home, he made some arrangements
connected with his ministerial work, and left a message at Dr.
Gibson's house, asking him to come and see him. He believed that he
had taken the fever, and it was so. That night he lay down upon the
bed from which he was never to rise. He spoke little, but intimated
that he apprehended danger.

On Wednesday, he said he thought that he would never have seen the
morning, he felt so sore broken, and had got no sleep; but afterwards
added, "Shall we receive good at the hand of the Lord, and shall we
not receive evil also?" He seemed clouded in spirit, often repeating
such passages as - "My moisture is turned into the drought of
summer;" - "My bones wax old, through my roaring all day long." It was
with difficulty that he was able to speak a few words with his
assistant, Mr. Gatherer. In the forenoon, Mr. Miller of Wallacetown
found him oppressed with extreme pain in his head. Amongst other
things they conversed upon Ps. 126. On coming to the 6th verse, Mr.
M'Cheyne said he would give him a division of it. 1. _What is
sowed_ - "Precious seed." 2. _The manner of sowing it_ - "Goeth forth
and weepeth." He dwelt upon "_weepeth_" and then said, "Ministers
should go forth at all times." 3. _The fruit_ - "Shall doubtless come
again with rejoicing." Mr. Miller pointed to the _certainty_ of it;
Mr. M'Cheyne assented, "Yes - _doubtless_." After praying with him, Mr.
Miller repeated Matt. 11:28, upon which Mr. M'Cheyne clasped his hands
with great earnestness. As he became worse, his medical attendants
forbade him to be visited. Once or twice he asked for me, and was
heard to speak of "_Smyrna_" as if the associations of his illness
there were recalled by his burning fever now. I was not at that time
aware of his danger, even the rumor of it had not reached us.

Next day, he continued sunk in body and mind, till about the time when
his people met for their usual evening prayer-meeting, when he
requested to be left alone for half an hour. When his servant entered
the room again, he exclaimed, with a joyful voice. "My soul is escaped
as a bird out of the snare of the fowler; the snare is broken, and I
am escaped." His countenance, as he said this, bespoke inward peace.
Ever after he was observed to be happy; and at supper-time that
evening, when taking a little refreshment, he gave thanks, "For
strength in the time of weakness - for light in the time of
darkness - for joy in the time of sorrow - for comforting us in all our
tribulations, that we may be able to comfort those that are in any
trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God."

On Sabbath, when one expressed a wish that he had been able to go
forth as usual to preach, he replied, "My thoughts are not your
thoughts, neither are my ways your ways, saith the Lord;" and added,
"I am preaching the sermon that God would have me to do."

On Tuesday (the 21st) his sister repeated to him several hymns. The
last words he heard, and the last he seemed to understand, were those
of Cowper's hymn, _Sometimes the light surprises the Christian as he
sings_. And then the delirium came on.

At one time, during the delirium, he said to his attendant, "Mind the
text, I Cor. 15:58 - 'Be stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the
work of the Lord,'" dwelling with much emphasis on the last clause,
"_forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord_."
At another time he seemed to feel himself among his brethren, and
said, "I don't think much of policy in church courts; no, I hate it;
but I'll tell you what I like, faithfulness to God, and a holy walk."
His voice, which had been weak before, became very strong now; and
often was he heard speaking to or praying for his people. "You must
be awakened in time, or you will be awakened in everlasting torment,
to your eternal confusion." "You may soon get me away, but that will
not save your souls." Then he prayed, "This parish, Lord, this people,
this whole place!" At another time, "Do it thyself, Lord, for thy weak
servant." And again, as if praying for the saints, "Holy Father, keep
through thine own name those whom Thou hast given me."

Thus he continued most generally engaged, while the delirium lasted,
either in prayer or in preaching to his people, and always apparently
in happy frame, till the morning of Saturday the 25th. On that
morning, while his kind medical attendant, Dr. Gibson, stood by, he
lifted up his hands as if in the attitude of pronouncing the blessing,
and then sank down. Not a groan or a sigh, but only a quiver of the
lip, and his soul was at rest.

As he was subject to frequent sickness, it was not till within some
days of his death that serious alarm was generally felt, and hence the
stroke came with awful suddenness upon us all. That same afternoon,
while preparing for Sabbath duties, the tidings reached me. I hastened
down, though scarce knowing why I went. His people were that evening
met together in the church, and such a scene of sorrow has not often
been witnessed in Scotland. It was like the weeping for King Josiah.
Hundreds were there; the lower part of the church was full: and none
among them seemed able to contain their sorrow. Every heart seemed
bursting with grief, so that the weeping and the cries could be heard
afar off. The Lord had most severely wounded the people whom He had
before so peculiarly favored; and now, by this awful stroke of his
hand, was fixing deeper in their souls all that his servant had spoken
in the days of his peculiar ministry.

Wherever the news of his departure came, every Christian countenance
was darkened with sadness. Perhaps, never was the death of one, whose
whole occupation had been preaching the everlasting gospel, more felt
by all the saints of God in Scotland. Not a few also of our
Presbyterian brethren in Ireland felt the blow to the very heart. He
himself used to say, "Live so as to be missed;" and none that saw the
tears that were shed over his death would have doubted that his own
life had been what he recommended to others. He had not completed
more than twenty-nine years when God took him.

On the day of his burial, business was quite suspended in the parish.
The streets, and every window, from the house to the grave, were
crowded with those who felt that a prince in Israel had fallen; and
many a careless man felt a secret awe creep over his hardened soul as
he cast his eye on the solemn spectacle.

His tomb may be seen on the pathway at the north-west corner of St.
Peter's burying-ground. He has gone to the "mountain of myrrh and the
hill of frankincense, till the day break and the shadows flee away."
His work was finished! His heavenly Father had not another plant for
him to water, nor another vine for him to train; and the Saviour who
so loved him was waiting to greet him with his own welcome: "Well
done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."

But what is the voice to us? Has this been sent as the stroke of
wrath, or the rebuke of love? "His way is in the sea, and his path in
the great waters, and his footsteps are not known." Only this much we
can clearly see, that nothing was more fitted to leave his character
and example impressed on our remembrance forever than his early death.
There might be envy while he lived; there is none now. There might
have been some of the youthful attractiveness of his graces lost had
he lived many years; this cannot be impaired now. It seems as if the
Lord had struck the flower from its stem, ere any of the colors had
lost their bright hue, or any leaf of fragrance.

Well may the flock of St. Peter's lay it to heart. They have had days
of visitation. "Ye have seen the right hand of the Lord plucked out of
his bosom? What shall the unsaved among you do in the day of the
Lord's anger?" "If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy
day, the things which belong to thy peace!"

It has been more than once the lot of Scotland (as was said in the
days of Durham) to enjoy so much of the Lord's kindness, as to have
men to lose whose loss has been felt to the very heart - witnesses for
Christ, who saw the King's face and testified of his beauty. We cannot
weep them back; but shall we not call upon Him with whom is the
residue of the Spirit, that ere the Lord come. He would raise up men,
like Enoch, or like Paul, who shall reach nearer the stature of the
perfect man, and bear witness with more power to all nations? Are
there not (as he who has left us used to hope) "better ministers in
store for Scotland than any that have yet arisen?"

Ministers of Christ, does not the Lord call upon us especially? Many
of us are like the angel of the church of Ephesus: we have "works, and
labor, and patience, and cannot bear them that are evil, and we have
borne, and for his name's sake we labor, and have not fainted;" but we
want the fervor of "first love." Oh how seldom now do we hear of fresh
supplies of holiness arriving from the heavenly places (Eph. 1:3) - new
grace appearing among the saints, and in living ministers! We get
contented with our old measure and kind, as if the windows of heaven
were never to be opened. Few among us see the lower depths of the
horrible pit; few ever enter the inner chambers of the house of David.

But there has been one among us who, ere he had reached the age at
which a priest in Israel would have been entering on his course, dwelt
at the Mercy-seat as if it were his home, - preached the certainties of
eternal life with an undoubting mind, - and spent his nights and days
in ceaseless breathings after holiness, and the salvation of sinners.
Hundreds of souls were his reward from the Lord, ere he left us; and
in him have we been taught how much one man may do who will only press
farther into the presence of his God, and handle more skilfully the
unsearchable riches of Christ, and speak more boldly for his God. We
speak much against unfaithful ministers, while we ourselves are
awfully unfaithful! Are we never afraid that the cries of souls whom
we have betrayed to perdition through our want of personal holiness,
and our defective preaching of Christ crucified, may ring in our ears
forever? Our Lord is at the door. In the twinkling of an eye our work
will be done. "Awake, awake, O arm of the Lord, awake as in the
ancient days," till every one of thy pastors be willing to impart to
the flock, over which the Holy Ghost has made him overseer, not the
gospel of God only, but also his own soul. And oh that each one were
able, as he stands in the pastures feeding thy sheep and lambs, to
look up and appeal to Thee: "_Lord, Thou knowest all things! Thou
knowest that I love Thee_!"

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