Andrew A. Bonar.

The Biography of Robert Murray M'Cheyne online

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enabled him to overtake. Many years after, he thankfully called to
mind lessons that had been taught in these classes. Riding one day
with Mr. Hamilton (now of Regent Square, London) from Abernyte to
Dundee, they were led to speak of the best mode of dividing a sermon.
"I used," said he, "to despise Dr. Welsh's rules at the time I heard
him; but now I feel I _must use_ them, for nothing is more needful for
making a sermon memorable and impressive than a logical arrangement."

His intellectual powers were of a high order: clear and distinct
apprehension of his subject, and felicitous illustration,
characterized him among all his companions. To an eager desire for
wide acquaintance with truth in all its departments, and a memory
strong and accurate in retaining what he found, there was added a
remarkable candor in examining what claimed to be the truth. He had
also an ingenious and enterprising mind - a mind that could carry out
what was suggested, when it did not strike out new light for itself.
He possessed great powers of analysis; often his judgment discovered
singular discrimination. His imagination seldom sought out object of
grandeur; for, as a friend has truly said of him, "he had a kind and
quiet eye, which found out the living and beautiful in nature, rather
than the majestic and sublime."

He might have risen to high eminence in the circles of taste and
literature, but denied himself all such hopes, that he might win
souls. With such peculiar talents as he possessed, his ministry might
have, in any circumstances, attracted many; but these attractions were
all made subsidiary to the single desire of awakening the dead in
trespasses and sins. Nor would he have expected to be blessed to the
salvation of souls unless he had himself been a monument of sovereign
grace. In his esteem, "_to be in Christ before being in the ministry_"
was a thing indispensable. He often pointed to those solemn words of
Jeremiah (23:21): "_I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran; I
have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in
my counsel, and caused my people to hear my words, then they should
have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their

It was with faith already in his heart that he went forward to the
holy office of the ministry, receiving from his Lord the rod by which
he was to do signs, and which, when it had opened rocks and made
waters gush out, he never failed to replace upon the ark whence it was
taken, giving glory to God! He knew not the way by which God was
leading him; but even then he was under the guidance of the
pillar-cloud. At this very period he wrote that hymn, _They sing the
song of Moses_. His course was then about to begin; but now that it
has ended, we can look back and plainly see that the faith he therein
expressed was not in vain.



"_He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall
doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with
him._" - Ps. 126:6.

While he was still only undergoing a student's usual examinations
before the Presbytery, in the spring and summer of 1835, several
applications were made to him by ministers in the Church, who desired
to secure his services for their part of the vineyard. He was
especially urged to consider the field of labor at Larbert and
Dunipace, near Stirling, under Mr. John Bonar, the pastor of these
united parishes. This circumstance led him (as is often done in such
cases) to ask the Presbytery of Edinburgh, under whose superintendence
he had hitherto carried on his studies, to transfer the remainder of
his public trials to another Presbytery, where there would be less
press of business to occasion delay. This request being readily
granted, his connection with Dumfriesshire led him to the Presbytery
of Annan, who licensed him to preach the gospel on 1st July 1835. His
feelings at the moment appear from a record of his own in the evening
of the day: "Preached three probationary discourses in Annan Church,
and, after an examination in Hebrew, was solemnly licensed to preach
the gospel by Mr. Monylaws, the moderator. 'Bless the Lord, O my soul;
and all that is within me, be stirred up to praise and magnify his
holy name!' What I have so long desired as the highest honor of man,
Thou at length givest me - me who dare scarcely use the words of Paul:
'Unto me who am less than the least of all saints is this grace given,
that I should preach the unsearchable riches of Christ.' Felt somewhat
solemnized, though unable to feel my unworthiness as I ought. Be
clothed with humility."

An event occurred the week before which cast a solemnizing influence
on him, and on his after fellow-traveller and brother in the gospel,
who was licensed by another Presbytery that same day. This event was
the lamented death of the Rev. John Brown Patterson of Falkirk - one
whom the Lord had gifted with preeminent eloquence and learning, and
who was using all for his Lord, when cut off by fever. He had spoken
much before his death of the awfulness of a pastor's charge, and his
early death sent home the lesson to many, with the warning that the
pastor's account of souls might be suddenly required of him.

On the following Sabbath, Mr. M'Cheyne preached for the first time in
Ruthwell Church, near Dumfries, on "the Pool of Bethesda;" and in the
afternoon on "the Strait Gate." He writes that evening in his diary:
"Found it a more awfully solemn thing than I had imagined to announce
Christ authoritatively; yet a glorious privilege!" The week after
(Saturday, July 11): "Lord, put me into thy service when and where
Thou pleasest. In thy hand all my qualities will be put to their
appropriate end. Let me, then, have no anxieties." Next day, also,
after preaching in St. John's Church, Leith: "Remembered, before going
into the pulpit, the confession which says,[5] 'We have been more
anxious about the messenger than the message.'" In preaching that day,
he states, "It came across me in the pulpit, that if spared to be a
minster, I might enjoy sweet flashes of communion with God in that
situation. The mind is entirely wrought up to speak for God. It is
possible, then, that more vivid acts of faith may be gone through
then, than in quieter and sleepier moments."

[5] He here refers to the _Full and Candid Acknowledgment of
Sin_, for Students and Ministers, drawn up by the Commission of
Assembly in 1651, and often reprinted since.

It was not till the 7th of November that he began his labors at
Larbert. In the interval he preached in various places, and many began
to perceive the peculiar sweetness of the word in his lips. In
accepting the invitation to labor in the sphere proposed, he wrote:
"It has always been my aim, and it is my prayer, to have _no plans_
with regard to myself, well assured as I am, that the place where the
Saviour sees meet to place me must ever be the best place for me."

The parish to which he had come was very large, containing six
thousand souls. The parish church is at Larbert; but through the
exertions of Mr. Bonar, many years ago, a second church was erected
for the people of Dunipace. Mr. Hanna, afterwards minister of
Skirling, had preceded M'Cheyne in the duties of assistant in his
field of labor; and Mr. M'Cheyne now entered on it with a fully
devoted and zealous heart, although in a weak state of health. As
assistant, it was his part to preach every alternate Sabbath at
Larbert and Dunipace, and during the week to visit among the
population of both these districts, according as he felt himself
enabled in body and soul. There was a marked difference between the
two districts in their general features of character; but equal labor
was bestowed on both by the minister and his assistant; and often did
their prayer ascend that the windows of heaven might be opened over
the two sanctuaries. Souls have been saved there. Often, however, did
the faithful pastor mingle his tears with those of his younger
fellow-soldier, complaining, "Lord, who hath believed our report?"
There was much sowing in faith; nor was this sowing abandoned even
when the returns seemed most inadequate.

Mr. M'Cheyne had great delight in remembering that Larbert was one of
the places where, in other days, that holy man of God, Robert Bruce,
had labored and prayed. Writing at an after period from the Holy Land,
he expressed the wish, "May the Spirit be poured upon Larbert as in
Bruce's days." But more than all associations, the souls of the
people, whose salvation he longed for, were ever present to his mind.
A letter to Mr. Bonar, in 1837, from Dundee, shows us his yearnings
over them. "What an interest I feel in Larbert and Dunipace! It is
like the land of my birth. Will the Sun of Righteousness ever rise
upon it, making its hills and valleys bright with the light of the
knowledge of Jesus?"

No sooner was he settled in his chamber here, than he commenced his
work. With him, the commencement of all labor invariably consisted in
the preparation of his own soul. The forerunner of each day's
visitations was a calm season of private devotion during morning
hours. The walls of his chamber were witnesses of his prayerfulness, - I
believe of his tears as well as of his cries. The pleasant sound of
psalms often issued from his room at an early hour. Then followed the
reading of the word for his own sanctification; and few have so fully
realized the blessing of the first Psalm. His leaf did not wither, for
his roots were in the waters. It was here, too, that he began to study
so closely the works of Jonathan Edwards, - reckoning them a mine to be
wrought, and if wrought, sure to repay the toil. Along with this
author, the _Letters of Samuel Rutherford_ were often in his hand.
Books of general knowledge he occasionally perused; but now it was
done with the steady purpose of finding in them some illustration of
spiritual truth. He rose from reading _Insect Architecture_, with the
observation, "God reigns in a community of ants and ichneumons, as
visibly as among living men or mighty seraphim!"

His desire to grow in acquaintance with Scripture was very intense;
and both Old and New Testament were his regular study. He loved to
range over the wide revelation of God. "He would be a sorry student of
this world," said he to a friend, "who should forever confine his gaze
to the fruitful fields and well-watered gardens of this cultivated
earth. He could have no true idea of what the world was, unless he had
stood upon the rocks of our mountains, and seen the bleak muirs and
mosses of our barren land; unless he had paced the quarter-deck when
the vessel was out of sight of land, and seen the waste of waters
without any shore upon the horizon. Just so, he would be a sorry
student of the Bible who would not know all that God has inspired; who
would not examine into the most barren chapters to collect the good
for which they were intended; who would not strive to understand all
the bloody battles which are chronicled, that he might find 'bread out
of the eater, and honey out of the lion.'" - (June 1836.)

His anxiety to have every possible help to holiness led him to notice
what are the disadvantages of those who are not daily stirred up by
the fellowship of more advanced believers. "I have found, by some
experience, that in the country here my watch does not go so well as
it used to do in town. By small and gradual changes I find it either
gains or loses, and I am surprised to find myself different in time
from all the world, and, what is worse, from the sun. The simple
explanation is, that in town I met with a steeple in every street, and
a good-going clock upon it; and so any aberrations in my watch were
soon noticed and easily corrected. And just so I sometimes think it
may be with that inner watch, whose hands point not to time but to
eternity. By gradual and slow changes the wheels of my soul lag
behind, or the springs of passions become too powerful; and I have no
living timepiece with which I may compare, and by which I may amend my
going. You will say that I may always have the sun: And so it should
be; but we have many clouds which obscure the sun from our weak
eyes." - (_Letter to Rev. H. Bonar, Kelso._)

From the first he fed others by what he himself was feeding upon. His
preaching was in a manner the development of his soul's experience. It
was a giving out of the inward life. He loved to come up from the
pastures wherein the Chief Shepherd had met him - to lead the flock
entrusted to his care to the spots where he found nourishment.

In the field of his labor he found enough of work to overwhelm his
spirit. The several collieries and the Carron Ironworks furnish a
population who are, for the most part, either sunk in deep
indifference to the truth, or are opposed to it in the spirit of
infidelity. Mr. M'Cheyne at once saw that the pastor whom he had come
to aid, whatever was the measure of his health, and zeal, and
perseverance, had duties laid on him which were altogether beyond the
power of man to overtake. When he made a few weeks' trial, the field
appeared more boundless, and the mass of souls more impenetrable, than
he had ever conceived.

It was probably, in some degree, his experience at this time that gave
him such deep sympathy with the Church Extension Scheme, as a truly
noble and Christian effort for bringing the glad tidings to the doors
of a population who must otherwise remain neglected, and were
themselves willing so to live and die. He conveyed his impressions on
this subject to a friend abroad, in the following terms: "There is a
soul-destroying cruelty in the cold-hearted opposition which is made
to the multiplication of ministers in such neglected and overgrown
districts as these. If one of our Royal Commissioners would but
consent to undergo the bodily fatigue that a minister ought to undergo
in visiting merely the sick and dying of Larbert (let alone the
visitation of the whole, and preparation for the pulpit), and that for
one month, I would engage that if he be able to rise out of his bed by
the end of it, he would change his voice and manner at the Commission

A few busy weeks passed over, occupied from morning to night in such
cares and toils, when another part of the discipline he was to undergo
was sent. In the end of December, strong oppression of the heart and
an irritating cough caused some of his friends to fear that his lungs
were affected; and for some weeks he was laid aside from public duty.
On examination, it was found that though there was a dulness in the
right lung, yet the material of the lungs was not affected. For a
time, however, the air-vessels were so clogged and irritated, that if
he had continued to preach, disease would have quickly ensued. But
this also was soon removed, and, under cautious management, he resumed
his work.

This temporary illness served to call forth this extreme sensitiveness
of his soul to the responsibilities of his office. At its
commencement - having gone to Edinburgh "in so sweet a sunshine morning
that God seemed to have chosen it for him" - he wrote to Mr. Bonar: "If
I am not recovered before the third Sabbath, I fear I shall not be
able to bear upon my conscience the responsibility of leaving you any
longer to labor alone, bearing unaided the burden of 6,000 souls. No,
my dear sir, I must read the will of God aright in his providence, and
give way, when He bids me, to fresh and abler workmen. I hope and pray
that it may be his will to restore me again to you and your parish,
with a heart tutored by sickness, to speak more and more as dying to
dying." Then, mentioning two of the sick: "Poor A.D. and C.H., I often
think of them. I can do no more for their good, except pray for them.
Tell them that I do this without ceasing."

The days when a holy pastor, who knows the blood-sprinkled way to the
Father, is laid aside, are probably as much a proof of the kindness of
God to his flock as days of health and activity. He is occupied,
during this season of retirement, in discovering the plagues of his
heart, and in going in, like Moses, to plead with God face to face for
his flock, and for his own soul. Mr. M'Cheyne believed that God had
this end in view with him; and that the Lord should thus deal with him
at his entrance into the vineyard made him ponder these dealings the
more. "Paul asked," says he, "'What wilt Thou have me _to do_?' and it
was answered, 'I will show him what great things he must _suffer_ for
my name's sake.' Thus it may be with me. I have been too anxious to do
great things. The lust of praise has ever been my besetting sin; and
what more befitting school could be found for me than that of
suffering alone, away from the eye and ear of man?" Writing again to
Mr. Bonar, he tells him: "I feel distinctly that the whole of my labor
during this season of sickness and pain should be in the way of prayer
and _intercession_. And yet, so strongly does Satan work in our
deceitful hearts, I scarcely remember a season wherein I have been
more averse to these duties. I try to build myself up in my most holy
faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keeping myself in the love of God,
and looking for the mercy of the Lord Jesus unto eternal life.' That
text of Jude has peculiar beauties for me at this season. If it be
good to come under the love of God once, surely it is good to keep
ourselves there. And yet how reluctant we are! I cannot doubt that
boldness is offered me to enter into the holiest of all; I cannot
doubt my right and title to enter continually by the new and bloody
way; I cannot doubt that when I do enter in, I stand not only
forgiven, but accepted in the Beloved; I cannot doubt that when I do
enter in, the Spirit is willing and ready to descend like a dove, to
dwell in my bosom as a Spirit of prayer and peace, enabling me to
'pray in the Holy Ghost;' and that Jesus is ready to rise up as my
intercessor with the Father, praying for me though not for the world;
and that the prayer-hearing God is ready to bend his ear to requests
which He delights to hear and answer. I cannot doubt that thus to
dwell in God is the true blessedness of my nature; and yet, strange
unaccountable creature! I am too often unwilling to enter in. I go
about and about the sanctuary, and I sometimes press in through the
rent veil, and see the blessedness of dwelling there to be far better
than that of the tents of wickedness; yet it is certain that I do not
dwell within." - "My prayers follow you, especially to the sick-beds of
A.D. and C.H. I hope they still survive, and that Christ may yet be
glorified in them."

On resuming his labors, he found a residence in Carronvale. From this
pleasant spot he used to ride out to his work. But pleasant as the
spot was, yet being only partially recovered, he was not satisfied; he
lamented that he was unable to overtake what a stronger laborer would
have accomplished. He often cast a regretful look at the collieries;
and remembering them still at a later period, he reproached himself
with neglect, though most unjustly. "The places which I left utterly
unbroken in upon are Kinnaird and Milton. Both of these rise up
against my conscience, particularly the last, through which I have
ridden so often." It was not the comfort, but the positive usefulness
of the ministry, that he envied; and he judged of places by their
fitness to promote this great end. He said of a neighboring parish,
which he had occasion to visit: "The manse is altogether too sweet;
other men could hardly live there without saying, 'This is my rest.' I
don't think ministers' manses should ever be so beautiful."

A simple incident was overruled to promote the ease and fluency of his
pulpit ministrations. From the very beginning of his ministry he
reprobated the custom of reading sermons, believing that to do so does
exceedingly weaken the freedom and natural fervor of the messenger in
delivering his message. Neither did he recite what he had written. But
his custom was to impress on his memory the substance of what he had
beforehand carefully written, and then to speak as he found liberty.
One morning, as he rode rapidly along to Dunipace, his written sermons
were dropped on the wayside. This accident prevented him having the
opportunity of preparing in his usual manner; but he was enabled to
preach with more than usual freedom. For the first time in his life,
he discovered that he possessed the gift of extemporaneous
composition, and learned, to his own surprise, that he had more
composedness of mind and command of language than he had believed.
This discovery, however, did not in the least degree diminish his
diligent preparation. Indeed, the only use that he made of the
incident at the time it occurred was, to draw a lesson of dependence
on God's own immediate blessing rather than on the satisfactory
preparation made. "One thing always fills the cup of my consolation,
that God may work by the meanest and poorest words, as well as by the
most polished and ornate, - yea, perhaps more readily, that the glory
may be all his own."

His hands were again full, distributing the bread of life in
fellowship with Mr. Bonar. The progress of his own soul, meanwhile,
may be traced in some of the few entries that occur in his diary
during this period: -

"_Feb. 21, 1836_, Sabbath. - Blessed be the Lord for another day of the
Son of man. Resumed my diary, long broken off; not because I do not
feel the disadvantages of it, - making you assume feelings and express
rather what you wish to be than what you are, - but because the
advantages seem greater. It ensures sober reflection on the events of
the day as seen in God's eye. Preached twice in Larbert, on the
righteousness of God, Rom. 1:16. In the morning was more engaged in
preparing the head than the heart. This has been frequently my error,
and I have always felt the evil of it, especially in prayer. Reform
it, then, O Lord."

"_Feb. 27._ - Preached in Dunipace with more heart than ever I remember
to have done, on Rom. 5:10, owing to the gospel nature of the subject
and prayerful preparation. Audience smaller than usual! How happy and
strange is the feeling when God gives the soul composure to stand and
plead for Him! Oh that it were altogether for Him I plead, not for

"_March 5._ - Preached in Larbert with very much comfort, owing chiefly
to my remedying the error of 21st Feb. Therefore the heart and the
mouth were full. 'Enlarge my heart, and I shall run,' said David.
'Enlarge my heart, and I shall preach.'"

In this last remark we see the germ of his remarkably solemn ministry.
His heart was filled, and his lips then spoke what he felt within his
heart. He gave out not merely living water, but living water drawn at
the springs that he had himself drank of; and is not this a true
gospel ministry? Some venture to try what they consider a more
_intellectual_ method of addressing the conscience; but ere a minister
attempts this mode, he ought to see that he is one who is able to
afford more deep and anxious preparation of heart than other men.
Since the intellectual part of the discourse is not that which is most
likely to be an arrow in the conscience, those pastors who are
intellectual men must bestow tenfold more prayerfulness on their work,
if they would have either their own or their people's souls affected
under their word. If we are ever to preach with compassion for the
perishing, we must ourselves be moved by those same views of sin and
righteousness which moved the human soul of Jesus. (See Psalm 38 and

About this time he occasionally contributed papers to the _Christian
Herald_: one of these was _On sudden Conversions_, showing that
Scripture led us to expect such. During this month he seems to have
written the _Lines on Mungo Park_, one of the pieces which attracted
the notice of Professor Wilson. But whatever he engaged in, his aim
was to honor his Master. I find him, after hearing sermon by another,
remarking (_April 3_), "Some things powerful; but I thirst to hear
more of Christ."

On Sabbath 16, he writes: "Preached with some tenderness of heart. Oh,
why should I not weep, as Jesus did over Jerusalem? Evening - Instructing
two delightful Sabbath schools. Much bodily weariness. Gracious
kindness of God in giving rest to the weary."

"_April 13._ - Went to Stirling to hear Dr. Duff once more upon his
system. With greater warmth and energy than ever. He kindles as he
goes. Felt almost constrained to go the whole length of his system
with him. If it were only to raise up an audience, it would be

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Online LibraryAndrew A. BonarThe Biography of Robert Murray M'Cheyne → online text (page 4 of 17)