Andrew A. Bonar.

The Biography of Robert Murray M'Cheyne online

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She died to teach us all
The loveliest must fall.
A curse is written on the brow
Of beauty; and the lover's vow
Cannot retain the flitting breath,
Nor save from all-devouring death.


The spirit left the earth;
And he who gave her birth
Has called her to his dread abode,
To meet her Saviour and her God.
She lives, to tell how blest
Is the everlasting rest
Of those who, in the Lamb's blood laved,
Are chosen, sanctified, and saved!
How fearful is their doom
Who drop into the tomb
Without a covert from the ire
Of Him who is consuming fire!


The grave shall yield his prize,
When, from the rending skies,
Christ shall with shouting angels come
To wake the slumberers of the tomb.
And many more shall rise
Before our longing eyes.
Oh! may we all together meet,
Embracing the Redeemer's feet!

"_May 20._ - General Assembly. The motion regarding Chapels of Ease
lost by 106 to 103. Every shock of the ram is heavier and stronger,
till all shall give way."

"_June 4._ - Evening almost lost. Music will not sanctify, though it
make feminine the heart."

"_June 22._ - Omissions make way for commissions. Could I but take
effective warning! A world's wealth would not make up for that saying,
'If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father.' But how shall
we that are dead to sin live any longer therein?"

"_June 30._ - Self-examination. Why is a missionary life so often an
object of my thoughts? Is it simply for the love I bear to souls?
Then, why do I not show it more where I am? Souls are as precious here
as in Burmah. Does the romance of the business not weigh anything with
me? - the interest and esteem I would carry with me? - the nice journals
and letters I should write and receive? Why would I so much rather go
to the East than to the West Indies? Am I wholly deceiving my own
heart? and have I not a spark of true missionary zeal? Lord, give me
to understand and imitate the spirit of those unearthly words of thy
dear Son: 'It is enough for the disciple that he be as his Master, and
the servant as his Lord.' 'He that loveth father or mother more than
me, is not worthy of me.' _Gloria in excelsis Deo!_

"_Aug. 13._ - Clear conviction of sin is the only true origin of
dependence on another's righteousness, and therefore (strange to say!)
of the Christian's peace of mind and cheerfulness."

"_Sept. 8._ - Reading _Adams' Private Thoughts_. Oh for his
heart-searching humility! Ah me! on what mountains of pride must I be
wandering, when all I do is tinctured with the very sins this man so
deplores; yet where are my wailings, where my tears, over my love of

"_Nov. 14._ - Composition - a pleasant kind of labor. I fear the love of
applause or effect goes a great way. May God keep me from preaching
myself instead of Christ crucified."

"_Jan. 15_, 1834. - Heard of the death of J.S., off the Cape of Good
Hope. O God! how Thou breakest into families! Must not the disease be
dangerous, when a tender-hearted surgeon cuts deep into the flesh? How
much more when God is the operator, 'who afflicteth not _from his
heart_ [[Hebrew: meilivo]], nor grieveth the children of men!' Lam.

"_Feb. 23_, Sabbath. - Rose early to seek God, and found Him whom my
soul loveth. Who would not rise early to meet such company? The rains
are over and gone. They that sow in tears shall reap in joy."

_Feb. 24._ - He writes a letter to one who, he feared, was only
sentimental, and not really under a sense of sin. "Is it possible,
think you, for a person to be conceited of his miseries? May there not
be a deep leaven of pride in telling how desolate and how unfeeling we
are? - in brooding over our unearthly pains? - in our being excluded
from the unsympathetic world? - in our being the invalids of Christ's
hospital?" He had himself been taught by the Spirit that it is more
humbling for us to _take what grace offers_, than to bewail our wants
and worthlessness.

Two days after, he records, with thankful astonishment, that for the
first time in his life he had been blest to awaken a soul. All who
find Christ for themselves are impelled, by the holy necessity of
constraining love, to seek the salvation of others. Andrew findeth his
brother Peter, and Philip findeth his friend Nathanael. So was it in
the case before us. He no sooner knew Christ's righteousness as his
own covering, than he longed to see others clothed in the same
spotless robe. And it is peculiarly interesting to read the feelings
of one who was yet to be blest in plucking so many brands from the
fire, when, for the first time, he saw the Lord graciously employing
him in this more than angelic work. We have his own testimony. "_Feb.
26._ - After sermon. The precious tidings that a soul has been melted
down by the grace of the Saviour. How blessed an answer to prayer, if
it be really so! 'Can these dry bones live? Lord, Thou knowest.' What
a blessed thing it is to see the first grievings of the awakened
spirit, when it cries, 'I cannot see myself a sinner; I cannot pray,
for my vile heart wanders!' It has refreshed me more than a thousand
sermons. I know not how to thank and admire God sufficiently for this
incipient work. Lord, perfect that which Thou hast begun!" A few days
after: "Lord, I thank Thee that Thou hast shown me this marvellous
working, though I was but an adoring spectator rather than an

It is scarcely less interesting, in the case of one so gifted for the
work of visiting the careless, and so singularly skilled in
ministering the word by the bedside of the dying, to find a record of
the occasion when the Lord led him forth to take his first survey of
this field of labor. There existed at that time, among some of the
students attending the Divinity Hall, a society, the sole object of
which was to stir up each other to set apart an hour or two every week
for visiting the careless and needy in the most neglected portions of
the town. Our rule was, not to subtract anything from our times of
study, but to devote to this work an occasional hour in the intervals
between different classes, or an hour that might otherwise have been
given to recreation. All of us felt the work to be trying to the flesh
at the outset; but none ever repented of persevering in it. One
Saturday forenoon, at the close of the usual prayer-meeting, which met
in Dr. Chalmers' vestry, we went up together to a district in the
Castle Hill. It was Robert's first near view of the heathenism of his
native city, and the effect was enduring.

"_March 3._ - Accompanied A.B. in one of his rounds through some of the
most miserable habitations I ever beheld. Such scenes I never before
dreamed of. Ah! why am I such a stranger to the poor of my native
town? I have passed their doors thousands of times; I have admired the
huge black piles of building, with their lofty chimneys breaking the
sun's rays, - why have I never ventured within? How dwelleth the love
of God in me? How cordial is the welcome even of the poorest and most
loathsome to the voice of Christian sympathy! What imbedded masses of
human beings are huddled together, unvisited by friend or minister!
'No man careth for our souls' is written over every forehead. Awake,
my soul! Why should I give hours and days any longer to the vain
world, when there is such a world of misery at my very door? Lord, put
thine own strength in me; confirm every good resolution; forgive my
past long life of uselessness and folly."

He forthwith became one of the society's most steady members,
cultivating a district in the Canongate, teaching a Sabbath school,
and distributing the Monthly Visitor, along with Mr. Somerville. His
experience there was fitted to give him insight into the sinner's
depravity in all its forms. His first visit in his district is thus
noticed: "_March 24._ - Visited two families with tolerable success.
God grant a blessing may go with us! Began in fear and weakness, and
in much trembling. May the power be of God." Soon after, he narrates
the following scene: - "Entered the house of - - . Heard her swearing
as I came up the stair. Found her storming at three little
grandchildren, whom her daughter had left with her. She is a seared,
hard-hearted wretch. Read Ezekiel 33. Interrupted by the entrance of
her second daughter, furiously demanding her marriage lines. Became
more discreet. Promised to come back - never came. Her father-in-law
entered, a hideous spectacle of an aged drunkard, demanding money.
Left the house with warnings." Another case he particularly mentions
of a sick woman, who, though careless before, suddenly seemed to float
into a sea of joy, without being able to give any scriptural account
of the change. She continued, I believe, to her death in this state;
but he feared it was a subtile delusion of Satan as an angel of light.
One soul, however, was, to all appearance, brought truly to the Rock
of Ages during his and his friend's prayerful visitations. These were

He continues his diary, though often considerable intervals occur in
the register of his spiritual state.

"_May 9._ - How kindly has God thwarted me in every instance where I
sought to en lave myself! I will learn at least to glory in

"_May 10._ - At the Communion. Felt less use for the minister than
ever. Let the Master of the feast alone speak to my heart." He felt at
such times, as many of the Lord's people have always done, that it is
not the addresses of the ministers in serving the table, but the
_Supper itself_, that ought to "satiate their souls with fatness."

_May 21._ - It is affecting to us to read the following entry: - "This
day I attained my twenty-first year. Oh! how long and how worthlessly
I have lived, Thou only knowest. _Neff_ died in his thirty-first year;
when shall I?"[3]

[3] It is worthy of notice how often the Lord has done much work
by a few years of holy labor. In our Church, G. Gillespie and J.
Durham died at thirty-six; Hugh Binning at twenty-six; Andrew
Gray when scarcely at twenty-two. Of our witnesses, Patrick
Hamilton was cut off at twenty-four, and Hugh M'Kail at
twenty-six. In other churches we might mention many, such as John
Janeway at twenty-three, David Brainerd at thirty, and Henry
Martyn at thirty-two. Theirs was a short life, filled up with
usefulness, and crowned with glory. Oh to be as they!

_May 29._ - He this day wrote very faithfully, yet very kindly, to one
who seemed to him not a believer, and who nevertheless appropriated to
herself the _promises_ of God. "If you are wholly unassured of your
being a believer, is it not a contradiction in terms to say, that you
are sure the believers' promises belong to you? Are you _an assured
believer_? If so, rejoice in your heirship; and yet rejoice with
trembling; for that is the very character of God's heirs. But are you
_unassured_ - nay, _wholly unassured_? then what mad presumption to say
to your soul, that these promises, being in the Bible, must belong
indiscriminately to all! It is too gross a contradiction for you to
compass, except in word." He then shows that _Christ's free offer_
must be accepted by the sinner, and so the _promises_ become his.
"This sinner complies with the call or offer, 'Come unto me;' and
thereafter, but not before, can claim the annexed _promise_ as his: 'I
will give thee rest.'"

"_Aug. 14._ - Partial fast, and seeking God's face by prayer. This day
thirty years, my late dear brother was born. Oh for more love, and
then will come more peace!" That same evening he wrote the hymn, "_The
Barren Fig-tree_."

"_Oct. 17._ - Private meditation exchanged for conversation. Here is
the root of the evil, - forsake God, and He forsakes us."

Some evening this month he had been reading _Baxter's Call to the
Unconverted_. Deeply impressed with the affectionate and awfully
solemn urgency of the man of God, he wrote -

Though Baxter's lips have long in silence hung,
And death long hush'd that sinner-wakening tongue,
Yet still, though dead, he speaks aloud to all,
And from the grave still issues forth his "Call:"
Like some loud angel-voice from Zion hill,
The mighty echo rolls and rumbles still.
Oh grant that we, when sleeping in the dust,
May thus speak forth the wisdom of the just!

Mr. M'Cheyne was peculiarly subject to attacks of fever, and by one of
these was he laid down on a sick-bed on November 15th. However, this
attack was of short duration. On the 21st he writes: "Bless the Lord,
O my soul, and forget not all his benefits. Learned more and more of
the value of _Jehovah Tzidkenu_." He had, three days before, written
his well-known hymn, "_I once was a stranger_," etc., entitled
_Jehovah Tzidkenu, the Watchword of the Reformers_. It was the fruit
of a slight illness which had tried his soul, by setting it more
immediately in view of the judgment-seat of Christ; and the hymn which
he so sweetly sung reveals the sure and solid confidence of his soul.
In reference to that same illness, he seems to have penned the
following lines. November 24th: -

He tenderly binds up the broken in heart,
The soul bowed down He will raise:
For mourning, the ointment of joy will impart:
For heaviness, garments of praise.

Ah, come, then, and sing to the praise of our God,
Who giveth and taketh away;
Who first by his kindness, and then by his rod,
Would teach us, poor sinners, to pray.

For in the assembly of Jesus' first-born,
Who anthems of gratitude raise,
Each heart has by great tribulation been torn,
Each voice turned from wailing to praise.

"_Nov. 9._ - Heard of Edward Irving's death. I look back upon him with
awe, as on the saints and martyrs of old. A holy man in spite of all
his delusions and errors. He is now with his God and Saviour, whom he
wronged so much, yet, I am persuaded, loved so sincerely. How should
we lean for wisdom, not on ourselves, but on the God of all grace!"

"_Nov. 21._ - If nothing else will do to sever me from my sins, Lord
send me such sore and trying calamities as shall awake me from earthly
slumbers. It must always be best to be alive to Thee, whatever be the
quickening instrument. I tremble as I write, for oh! on every hand do
I see too likely occasions for sore afflictions."

"_Feb._ 15, 1835. - To-morrow I undergo my trials before the
Presbytery. May God give me courage in the hour of need. What should I
fear? If God see meet to put me into the ministry, who shall keep me
back? If I be not meet, why should I be thrust forward? To thy service
I desire to dedicate myself over and over again."

"_March 1._ - Bodily service. What change is there in the heart! Wild,
earthly affections there are here; strong, coarse passions; bands both
of iron and silk. But I thank Thee, O my God, that they make me cry,
'Oh wretched man!' Bodily weakness, too, depresses me."

"_March 29._ - College finished on Friday last. My last appearance
there. Life itself is vanishing fast. Make haste for eternity."

In such records as these, we read God's dealings with his soul up to
the time when he was licensed to preach the gospel. His preparatory
discipline, both of heart and of intellect, had been directed by the
Great Head of the Church in a way that remarkably qualified him for
the work he was to perform in the vineyard.

His soul was prepared for the awful work of the ministry by much
prayer, and much study of the word of God; by affliction in his
person; by inward trials and sore temptations; by experience of the
depth of corruption in his own heart, and by discoveries of the
Saviour's fulness of grace. He learned experimentally to ask, "Who is
he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the
Son of God!" I John 5:5. During the four years that followed his
awakening, he was oftentimes under the many waters, but was ever
raised again by the same divine hand that had drawn him out at the
first; till at length, though still often violently tossed, the vessel
was able steadily to keep the summit of the wave. It appears that he
learned the way of salvation experimentally, ere he knew it accurately
by theory and system; and thus no doubt it was that his whole ministry
was little else than a giving out of his own inward life.

The Visiting Society noticed above was much blessed to the culture of
his soul, and not less so the Missionary Association and the Prayer
Meeting connected with it. None were more regular at the hour of
prayer than he, and none more frequently led up our praises to the
throne. He was for some time Secretary to the Association, and
interested himself deeply in details of missionary labors. Indeed, to
the last day of his life, his thoughts often turned to foreign lands;
and one of the last notes he wrote was to the Secretary of the
Association in Edinburgh, expressing his unabated interest in their

During the first years of his college course, his studies did not
absorb his whole attention; but no sooner was the change on his soul
begun, than his studies shared in the results. A deeper sense of
responsibility led him to occupy his talents for the service of Him
who bestowed them. There have been few who, along with a devotedness
of spirit that sought to be ever directly engaged in the Lord's work,
have nevertheless retained such continued and undecaying esteem for
the advantages of study. While attending the usual literary and
philosophical classes, he found time to turn his attention to Geology
and Natural History. And often in his days of most successful
preaching, when, next to his own soul, his parish and his flock were
his only care, he has been known to express a regret that he had not
laid up in former days more stores of all useful knowledge; for he
found himself able to use the jewels of the Egyptians in the service
of Christ. His previous studies would sometimes flash into his mind
some happy illustration of divine truth, at the very moment when he
was most solemnly applying the glorious gospel to the most ignorant
and vile.

His own words will best show his estimate of study, and at the same
time the prayerful manner in which he felt it should be carried on.
"Do get on with your studies," he wrote to a young student in 1840.
"Remember you are now forming the character of your future ministry in
great measure, if God spare you. If you acquire slovenly or sleepy
habits of study now, you will never get the better of it. Do
everything in its own time. Do everything in earnest; if it is worth
doing, then do it with all your might. Above all, keep much in the
presence of God. Never see the face of man till you have seen his face
who is our life, our all. Pray for others; pray for your teachers,
fellow-students," etc. To another he wrote: "Beware of the atmosphere
of the classics. It is pernicious indeed; and you need much of the
south wind breathing over the Scriptures to counteract it. True, we
ought to know them; but only as chemists handle poisons - to discover
their qualities, not to infect their blood with them." And again:
"Pray that the Holy Spirit would not only make you a believing and
holy lad, but make you wise in your studies also. A ray of divine
light in the soul sometimes clears up a mathematical problem
wonderfully. The smile of God calms the spirit, and the left hand of
Jesus holds up the fainting head, and his Holy Spirit quickens the
affection, so that even natural studies go on a million times more
easily and comfortably."

Before entering the Divinity Hall, he had attended a private class for
the study of Hebrew; and having afterwards attended the two sessions
of Dr. Brunton's college class, he made much progress in that
language. He could consult the Hebrew original of the Old Testament
with as much ease as most of our ministers are able to consult the
Greek of the New.

It was about the time of his first year's attendance at the Hall that
I began to know him as an intimate friend. During the summer
vacations, - that we might redeem the time, - some of us who remained in
town, when most of our fellow-students were gone to the country, used
to meet once every week in the forenoon, for the purpose of
investigating some point of _Systematic Divinity_, and stating to each
other the amount and result of our private reading. At another time we
met in a similar way, till we had overtaken the chief points of the
_Popish controversy_. Advancement in our acquaintance with the Greek
and Hebrew Scriptures also brought us together; and one summer the
study of _Unfulfilled Prophecy_ assembled a few of us once a week, at
an early morning hour, when, though our views differed much on
particular points, we never failed to get food to our souls in the
Scriptures we explored. But no society of this kind was more useful
and pleasant to us than one which, from its object, received the name
of _Exegetical_. It met during the session of the Theological classes
every Saturday morning at half-past six. The study of Biblical
criticism, and whatever might cast light on the word of God, was our
aim; and these meetings were kept up regularly during four sessions.
Mr. M'Cheyne spoke of himself as indebted to this society for much of
that discipline of mind on Jewish literature and Scripture geography
which was found to be so useful in the Mission of Inquiry to the Jews
in after days.[4]

[4] The members of this Society were - Rev. _William Laughton_,
now Minister of St Thomas's, Greenock, in connection with the
Free Church; _Thomas Brown,_ Free Church, Kinneff; _William
Wilson_, Free Church, Carmyllie; _Horatius Bonar_, Free Church,
Kelso; _Andrew A. Bonar_, Free Church, Collace; _Robert M.
M'Cheyne; Alexander Somerville_, Free Church, Anderston, Glasgow;
_John Thomson_, Mariners' Free Church, Leith; _Robert K.
Hamilton_, Madras; _John Burne_, for some time at Madeira;
_Patrick Borrowman_, Free Church, Glencairn; _Walter Wood_, Free
Church, Westruther; _Henry Moncrieff_, Free Church, Kilbride;
_James Cochrane_, Established Church, Cupar; _John Miller_,
Secretary to Free Church Special Commission; _G. Smeaton_, Free
Church, Auchterarder; _Robert Kinnear_, Free Church, Moffat; and
_W.B. Clarke_, Free Church, Half-Morton. Every meeting was opened
and closed with prayer. Minutes of the discussions were kept; and
the essays read were preserved in volumes. A very characteristic
essay of Mr. M'Cheyne's is "Lebanon and its Scenery" (inserted in
the _Remains_), wherein he adduces the evidence of travellers for
facts and customs which he himself was afterwards to see. Often,
in 1839, pleasant remembrances of these days of youthful study
were suggested by what we actually witnessed; and in the essay
referred to I find an interesting coincidence. He writes: "What a
refreshing sight to his eye, yet undimmed with age, after resting
forty years on the monotonous scenery of the desert, now to rest
on Zion's olive-clad hills, and Lebanon, with its vine-clad base
and overhanging forests, and towering peaks of snow!" This was
the very impression on our minds when we ourselves came up from
the wilderness as expressed in the _Narrative_, chap. 2 - "May 29.
Next morning we saw at a distance a range of hills, running north
and south, called by the Arabs _Djebel Khalie_. After wandering
so many days in the wilderness, with its vast monotonous plains
of level sand, the sight of these distant mountains was a
pleasant relief to the eye; and we thought we could understand a
little of the feeling with which Moses, after being forty years
in the desert, would pray, 'I pray Thee let me go over,'" Deut.

But these helps in study were all the while no more than
supplementary. The regular systematic studies of the Hall furnished
the main provision for his mental culture. Under Dr. Chalmers for
Divinity, and under Dr. Welsh for Church History, a course of four
years afforded no ordinary advantages for enlarging the understanding.
New fields of thought were daily opened up. His notes and his diary
testify that he endeavored to retain what he heard, and that he used
to read as much of the books recommended by the professors as his time

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Online LibraryAndrew A. BonarThe Biography of Robert Murray M'Cheyne → online text (page 3 of 17)